Shadows

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Ch. 9

Bell led Terra into the classroom and closed the door. He sat her down on one of large benches and took the seat next to her. He had heard shouting out in the hall and had come to see what the matter was. Finding Terra the way he did made him worry. If she and Eric had a falling out right now it could be detrimental to the plans he and the King had for her.

She would need the strength of her Guard to keep her going and to deal with the emotional fallout that would certainly ensue after it was all over. Eric was going to be the only thing keeping her together. If their fight was bad enough, it could cost them everything they’d spent the last four years preparing for.

“He left,” she muttered quietly, her voice rough.

“Who’s left?” Bell asked, fearing the worst.

“Eric,” she sobbed as her tears came down faster. “He left.”

Bell considered this for a moment. “Terra, can you tell me what happened?”

She took a deep shaking breath and tried to speak. All she succeeded in doing was sobbing a little louder. Whatever happened must have been bad indeed for her to be reacting this way.

“Would you like some tea?” He asked. “It will help soothe your throat.”

Terra nodded but didn’t speak.

He stood and moved to the back of class room where he kept his desk. He took some water from a jar he kept in the room and poured it in to two glasses. He went to his herb cabinet and pulled out mint, chamomile, and lavender. He considered a few other herbs and finally pulled out a small vile containing essence of nightflower. It was a rare bloom that wasn’t native to Sol. It came from the black woods in heart of the Ursa Kingdom.

A few drops of it in Terra’s tea should calm her enough to be able to speak. It was a nearly tasteless liquid that would be undetectable when combined with the other ingredients.

Bell mixed the herbs into both cups and added a few drops of the nightflower to Terra’s. He took both in his hands and summoned up fire as he had taught Terra to do. Fire sprang from his fingers and started to warm both cups. After just a few moments the tea was bubbling and ready to be served.

“Here you are,” Bell said, offering her a cup.

“Thank you,” she replied, blindly accepting the tea he offered. She put the cup her lips and sipped the tea, thankful for the temporary heat it offered her. She was so cold inside it was nice to feel the warmth flow through her.

Once the liquid hit her stomach, she started to feel better. It felt like the warmth of the tea spread throughout her entire body. It didn’t take the pain of Eric’s words away, but it did help with the aftermath. She stopped sobbing and her breath started to come easier. After a few more drinks her tears dried and she could feel her brain start to process things easier.

“Nightflower?” She asked.

Bell smiled, “You remember your herbs well.”

“You taught me well.”

“So it would seem. Are you feeling better?”

“I am feeling . . . more in control.”

“Can you tell me what happened? I heard shouting in the hall but by the time I got there you were already alone.”

Terra let out a long low breath. She needed to talk to someone about what was going on. Why not Master Bell? He’d proven in the past that he could be trusted and things that were told to him were not told to anyone else.

“Eric and I . . . I don’t really know what we were, but he’s done. He’s gone to my father to officially resign his position as my Royal Guard.”

Bell was shocked for a moment, but he recovered quickly. “What happened?”

“Master Bell,” she whispered, not really wanting to get into things. While also wanting so much to talk to someone about it and talk to someone about her feelings and whether or not she was crazy for telling Eric what she had. Maybe she was making things harder than they had to be.

“Terra you know there is nothing you cannot tell me.” He prompted.

“I know, it’s just so much to tell and some of its . . . complicated.”

“It might do you well to talk about it.” He prompted again.

“I can’t tell you everything.”

“Then tell me only what you can.”

With a sigh she started, “Eric has, for some time, had feelings for me. Strong feelings.”

“He’s in love with you,” Bell said matter of factly.

“He told you?” She asked disbelievingly.

“He didn’t have to. It was obvious in the way he looks and acts towards you.”

“It is?” She asked, disheartened.

Bell nodded.

“Great,” she croaked miserably. “So apparently last night Eric had a dream where I told him that I wanted him to tell me how he felt and hold me and . . .” she hesitated. “He seemed to think I sent him the dream. He thinks I sent him the dream because I wanted him to tell me those things. But I never did.” Tears started flowing down her face again as she thought about the look of anger in Eric’s eyes as he walked away from her.

“Did you tell him that?”

“Yes,” she sniffled, drinking more tea. “He didn’t believe. He told me I was leading him on and he was done. Done with me, done with being my guard, done with . . . everything.”

Bell was quiet for a moment as he considered what to say to the young princess. Somehow they needed to mend things between Terra and her guard if plans were to progress. There was very little he could do right now, both were worked up and angry. They needed time to calm down.

“Terra, it is my belief that you and Eric will be fine. He cares a great deal for you as you do for him. I believe that he dreamed a dream he wanted to see, as we are all guilty of doing from time to time. He acted on that dream and created a rift between you two, a rift that looks larger than it really is.”

She looked up and searched her teacher’s eyes. “Do you really think it’s not that bad?”

“I feel very confident in saying that things will work themselves out, in time.”

“How much time?” She asked, “What am I supposed to do until then?”

“You both need time and some space to clear you heads and get perspective. Eric is already off cooling down. You should do the same.”

“How? Where?”

“Why don’t you go for a ride?” Bell suggested knowing she needed to be out of the castle today for plans to progress. “You haven’t been out on your mare in months.”

“I suppose I could do that,” she considered, warming up to the idea of getting away for a while. “How though? With all the increases in shadow activity and the unruly nature of the people outside the city walls, Father would never let me go alone.”

Bell considered for a moment. “Wasn’t there a young man that Eric trusted a great deal, something with a J?”

“John,” she answered quietly. “He was a new recruit when Eric was first assigned as my guard. He’s been a good friend of Eric’s for a long time now. Eric trusts him.”

“Do you trust him?”

“I do,” she replied without thought. “He’s a good man.”

“Why don’t you go and prepare you horse and I’ll send for young John to accompany you.”

“What about my lesson?” She asked, not wanting to miss out on her favorite part of the day.

“We can have lessons tonight.” He assured her.

“Thank you Master Bell,” she said, “I can’t tell you how much appreciate it.”

“Don’t think anything of it,” Bell assured her as he was overcome by an overwhelming sense of guilt. He knew what was coming for her. He knew how much harder her life was about to become and a great deal of it would be at his owns hands. He put a hand on her shoulder and smiled reassuringly all the while knowing he would be the person who shattered her.

Terra had just finished brushing her horse with the curry comb when John came walking toward the stables. He smiled as he walked over and saluted her formally. He was wearing light armor today, with a chainmail tunic over his usual guard uniform. She was confused for a moment before she remembered he father saying something about how all guards, City and Castle alike had to wear armor when leaving the safety of the walls.

“Princess,” he greeted rising, “the Master Wizard said you needed me to accompany you on a ride. Is Guard Reynolds unavailable?”

“Eric is . . . busy,” she lied. “I was hoping to take a ride and clear my head. I was wondering if you could accompany me.”

“Of course Princess,” he replied smiling. “It would be my honor to go with you. I have heard tell of your riding ability. It would be nice to see if the truth measures up to the legend.”

“Are you insinuating I can’t ride sir?” Terra laughed.

“Not at all Princess,” he smiled, offering his hand to help the princess into the saddle.

Gripping the pommel Terra stepped up onto John’s hand and vaulted herself into the saddle. She settled in and made sure her dress was covering her legs and that her dark green cloak was spread out behind her. She reached up and stroked her horse’s neck lovingly

“Who’s a good girl, eh Venus?” She cooed to her mare. Venus shook her head and whinnied softly.

“Thank you John,” Terra sighed as he came alongside her riding a beautiful chestnut stallion. “Are you ready?”

“I am,” he said happy to be on a horse. “Where are we riding to?”

“I’m not sure,” she answered feeling the wind rustle her hair. She wanted to be out and free for a while. She wanted to just be Terra. Not the princess or the jail keeper, just Terra. “Let’s see where the horses want to go.”

Eric stalked the halls for well over an hour before he finally felt himself cool down enough to think. He couldn’t believe the way Terra had acted. After the dream and everything else that had been said today! He couldn’t understand how she could stand there and act like she had no idea what was going on?! Even after all that she had stood there and kissed him the way she had.

Thinking about it made his blood turn hot. He had held her close and pressed her into him. He would have had her in that hallway if she’d been anyone other than the princess. He wanted her in a way that made it hard for him to walk.

He stopped and leaned against the stone wall of the castle.

He loved her so much it physically pained him.

That was done now, he reminded himself. He couldn’t keep hurting himself for her. Not when there was no sign that things would ever change. As her guard he’d stood by her through so much. When her mother told her she wasn’t wanted, when her sister had “accidentally” pushed her down the stairs to her room, when the shadows increased and her father had stopped spending time with her, and when she and Grey had that huge blow out over something stupid she wouldn’t really tell him about. Through all of that he had stood by her and been there for her no matter what she needed. In all that time he’d only asked for one thing from her. That she be honest with him.

She lied to him today.

When she said she had no knowledge of the dream she sent him.

She lied and he could no longer take the pain that was associated with being her guard. He had meant to find the King but was too mad to face anyone right then. He would head to the weapons room and practice with his sword for a while. Anything to get his mind off Terra.

Terra and John rode down the lane that led from the gates of the castle town out into the kingdom. Woods on either side with the river that flowed passed the town and through the Queen’s garden to the left. They rode past people coming and going in and out of town, some fresh from the lake with baskets of fish, others coming from nearby towns with vegetables and fruits. All called and waved at them as they rode.

Some people she knew and called to them by name. She enquired as to their lives and their family member’s wellbeing. John could see in the people’s faces how much it meant to have the princess remember their names. Everyone seemed to be glad to see a member of the royal family outside the gates again.

When they came upon the first fork in the road Terra let Venus decide their course. Going right would have meant taking the road to the town of Pisces. A small but prosperous town bordered on three sides by rivers, it was home to Sol’s largest fish market.

Going left would lead them into the woods and eventually down the sloping cliffs to the beach. It was a long road that zigged and zagged through the densest parts of the wood. It did wind past a number of small lakes and streams and if you went deep enough in and far enough down you can see the water falls that were rumored to be home to merfolk and pixies. It was beautiful road when you had time to take it.

“Which way Princess?” John asked from her left.

“I’ve decided to let Venus choose our course,” she explained, already feeling better. Being outside the castle walls in the fresh air with no one looking at her expectantly, it was the best she’d felt in a while.

“Your horse?” He asked amused.

“Yes, Venus tell us where we should go.” At the sound of her name the mare’s ears perked up and she looked around. She continued to the left walking toward the woods and what looked like some tasty grazing.

“It would appear we’re going through the woods,” she laughed bright and happy.

“Is that wise Princess?” He asked, a note of concern in his voice.

“It’s not even noon yet,” she said glancing up at the sun. “We have plenty of time to walk the horses before it gets dark.”

“I suppose that’s true,” John muttered checking the sun. “So long as we aren’t gone for too long.”

“Not to worry,” she reassured him, “everything will be just fine. Now what do you say we stretch their legs a little?”

“Princess!” John exclaimed in fake shock. “Are suggesting a race?”

“Me!” Terra exclaimed, matching his false shock. “Never I!” Then as quickly as she could get the words out, she shouted, “Mark, set, GO!”

She signaled Venus to run the mare answered happily. She threw her head back and started galloping toward the woods.

“Cheating will get you nowhere!” John hollered from behind her. Terra heard him urge his horse on and before she knew it they were neck and neck heading for the woods. She urged Venus on faster and faster. Together they started to pull away from John and his mustang. After a few seconds she realized that a war horse like that should have been able to out run her aging mare in a matter of moments.

She glanced behind her and stared at John. “Letting me win?” She demanded laughing.

“It would seem bad form to beat the princess,” he called back.

“It would be worse form if I had to go back to the castle boasting to every person I could find of your inadequacies in riding. Not sure what that would do to your form, but I’d wager it’d be bad!"

John was suddenly passing her up and in just a matter of seconds he had reached the beginning of the woods and won the race. Terra slowed Venus down and came to a stop next to John. She clapped and bowed to him.

“I concede to your victory,” she laughed. “Well played John.”

“Thank you Princess,” John replied breathless. “Am I now entitled to a prize?”

“I’m afraid I haven’t a prize to give you.”

“Well how about my prize is that you must answer me a question,” John suggested.

“That sounds fair,” she answered, weary. “So long as I can answer, I will.”

“Good,” John said still smiling. He made a noise to his horse and they started down the path and into the trees. Terra nudged Venus on and followed him down the road into the woods. She came up alongside him and waited patiently for him to ask his question.

“So my question for you is this,” John said once they were well in to the woods. “What’s really going on between you and Guard Reynolds?”

Terra felt herself go pale. She had just started to forget about that scene with Eric in the hall outside her schoolroom. She was starting to feel better and be happy. Eric was a distant thought. With one word, it all came rushing back.

“I’m sorry Princess,” he said immediately. “It was not my place to ask such a question.”

“It’s alright John,” she assured him weakly. “The truth is I don’t always know what’s going on between Eric and I. There are times when he’s my best friend and times when I can’t stand the sight of him. It’s complicated.”

“I see,” he said thinking. “He speaks of you often. Of your strength and you bravery and how he admires the sacrifices you make for those you love.”

She knew John was trying to cheer her up. He must have guessed that Terra and Eric had a falling out when he was summoned to ride with her. He was trying to tell her that Eric cared about her. She already knew that. Knowing how much didn’t seem to make the hole forming in her chest feel any better.

“Thank you John,” she whispered.

“What’s that?” He asked looking ahead. The road sloped down and around to the left, just beyond the bend there was something on the side of the road. It was too far ahead to see clearly yet. Terra squinted but couldn’t make it out.

“Let’s go find out,” she suggested, urging Venus on. Together they trotted down the road and around the bend. On the side of the road, nearly over turned, there was a large white carriage. There was no crest on the door and no markings to say what town or kingdom it hailed from. Two of the wheels were broken and as far as Terra could see, there wasn’t another horse in sight.

As they approached someone cried out softly in pain.

“Hello?” Terra called.

“Princess maybe you should wait here,” John whispered unsheathing his sword. He kept his eyes fixed on the wreck ahead of them so he didn’t notice until it was too late that Terra had already slipped off her horse and was making her way toward the over turned carriage.

“Princess!” John called leaping down from his horse and running up alongside her. “You were supposed to wait on your horse.”

Terra waved him off and kept walking toward the carriage. “Hello? Is someone there? We can help.”

“Please,” A man’s voice called from the front of the carriage.

Terra ran forward followed closely by John. When they reached the edge of the road they could see a man lying under the carriage, pinned down by the weight of the vehicle. He was older with white hair and brown eyes. He was wearing some kind of livery Terra didn’t recognize. Whoever he served they weren’t from the Sol Kingdom.

“Dear Creator,” she whispered as she rushed forward, down the small embankment that lined the road. She reached out and put a hand on the carriage for support as she precariously made her way to where the man lay.

“Terra,” John worried, not sure about using her title. “Are you sure that’s a wise idea?”

“He’s hurt,” she stated, “We have to help him.”

“Thank you,” the man muttered as Terra finally made her way round the empty yolk of the carriage.

“Don’t worry,” she reassured him, “We’ll get you out of this.”

“Who were you driving?” John asked, “And where have they gone?”

“John,” she snapped, “Wait until we get him out of here to start questioning him.”

John, looking unhappy about Terra’s over eagerness to help, sheathed his sword and made his way down. He could see instantly there was no way they were getting that man out alive. By his guess, the man was the driver. Something must have happened and he was thrown from his bench seconds before the whole carriage was tipped. He had fallen flat on his back and the carriage had landed directly on top of him, pinning his right hand and everything below the chest.

Even if he and Terra were strong enough to lift the carriage, once it was up the man would die. John had never seen wounds like this, but he had heard of them. There was no way to save the man and judging by the way he was looking at Terra, he already knew he was beyond their help.

“Please,” he coughed, blood coming from his mouth. “You must find my lady and help her. She couldn’t have gotten far.”

“Let’s worry about getting you out of here first,” Terra said trying to smile reassuringly.

“Terra,” John whispered, grabbing her arm. He looked to the man on the ground and then back to her. Slowly he shook his head. “There isn’t anything more we can do for him.”

“There might not be anything more you can do for him,” she countered, “but there is a bit more I can do.” She pulled her arm from Johns and faced the carriage again. Closing her eyes she placed both of her hands on the white wood. “When I get this clear, pull him out.”

John stared at her dumbfounded. How could she possible move an entire carriage by herself? It would take at least five strong men to get that thing to budge and inch. Terra was a beautiful woman, but not exactly strong.

Taking a moment to center herself, Terra breathed in and out three times. She felt the ground beneath her feet. She felt the sky above her. She focused on the wind that blew softly at first, but at her beckoning began to blow harder. Silently she called to the wind to help her lift the carriage in her hands. She asked it to help save a man’s life and set the carriage right.

There was a sudden rushing of air all around her. It lifted the little hairs Mammy had curled and blew them around. Her dress was blown around and at times was pulled tight against her legs. Keeping her focus on the carriage, she started to push. At first it didn’t move, and then she could feel the wind whooshing and swirling around her arms. She pushed again and this time the carriage began to creak and wobble. Slowly it started to roll back up the side of the road.

Terra’s foot slipped in the mud and for a moment she was sure she would slide back down the embankment and the carriage would drop down again. A second later John was standing behind her pushing her back up. With her back now supported, she pushed the carriage again. It rocked up and out of Terra’s hands and was almost back on its wheels when it lost momentum and came rocking back toward them.

“Brace yourself!” She shouted, seconds before it hit her hands.

Both she and John slid under the weight of the carriage.

John pushed against Terra and in turn she pushed the carriage. Summoning up all the wind she could, she gave the carriage one last push. It creaked and seemed to complain as it flew up out of the ditch and back up onto the road. John, unable to see the carriage with his shoulder squared against Terra’s back, pushed again. She flew forward into the mud as John stumbled and joined her.

The princess didn’t mind the mud; she kept her eyes fixed on the carriage. It rocked back and forth for a moment, like it was trying to decide if it would stay or if it should crash back down on the three people below. It rocked back down on the road and stilled. Covered in mud and leaning heavily, it rested.

Knowing time was against them, Terra rolled on to her side and slid back down the embankment, effectively covering her white stockings and bloomers in mud. She took no notice of this as she hit the bottom ran toward the man who had moments ago been trapped. She ran to him and then dropped to her knees to help.

“Thank you,” the man wheezed, a strange rattle in his chest. “You must find my lady . . .”

“Don’t speak,” she whispered. “Just hold on.” She pulled her cloak from her shoulders and balling it up, she placed it under the man’s head to help make him more comfortable. She came around his side and placed her hands over his torso, leaving about two to three inches of space between them. She closed her eyes and tried to focus on healing the way Bell had taught her.

Terra had proven to be a fair healer, but with so much for her to learn, Bell hadn’t spent long teaching her. He had covered the basics and when she proved she could do that, he had moved on to other things.

As she focused on the man’s injuries, her hands began to glow with the familiar light of a healer. White light, colored here and there with flecks of purple and silver, emanated from her hands and seemed to sink in through the man’s clothes. He began to glow with the same light as Terra passed her hands up and down the length of him.

After less than a minute the light stopped and she opened her eyes. She looked at the man and whispered, “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s alright my dear,” the man wheezed. “I knew before you arrived I was beyond salvation. I thank you all the same for taking the carriage away, Princess Terra of Sol.”

“You know who I am?” She asked, shocked.

“Oh yes. Even so far away as Virgo at the edge of the Moon Kingdom, we have heard tell of a princess whose beauty is only comparable to the magic she possesses. She is Terra, Princess of Sol, marked by the Creator with white wings that spread across her shoulders as proof of her divinity.”

Terra’s jaw seemed to hang open. No one said things like this about her. People generally didn’t even know who she was if she wasn’t traveling with a banner that said she was royalty. People knew Diana; she’s the one who’s in the prophecy, the one that everyone loves. This man must have been mistaken in his names.

“Sir, while I am flattered, I’m afraid you have me confused with my sister Diana,” she whispered gently, tears in her eyes as she heard him struggle to breath.

“Diana is the fair haired princess of prophecy,” the man replied. “There is no confusion. But Princess please I need you to find my lady. She was pregnant when we set out from Virgo weeks ago, since then she had given birth to a strapping young son. Both were healthy after the birth but my lady hasn’t had a restful night’s sleep since then.”

He stopped and started to cough violently. Blood sprayed out of his mouth. His body seemed to be racked with pain as coughed and coughed.

Unable to stand more, Terra reached out and placed a hand on the man’s heart and on his head. Her hands began to glow again and he was suddenly still. He took his first unobstructed breath and seemed to visibly calm.

“I can’t heal you,” she whispered, silent tears running down her dirty face. “But I can take the pain away.”

“Thank you Princess,” he muttered with a faint smile. “Your reputation is well deserved.”

“Shhh, rest now sir. You have served your lady well. We will find her and bring her safely from the woods. Her and her young babe. Sleep now and know that you have seen your task done. There is not to hold you here. Go and bask in the light of your creator.”

As she spoke the man’s eyes slowly closed. He smiled as his last breath escaped from his lips. Terra’s hand’s stopped glowing on their own, signaling that the man was dead. She sent up a quiet prayer to the creator to take this man’s soul and show it all the kindness and love he deserved for a life lost in service.

She turned away suddenly and coughed roughly for a moment. She spit blood and quickly wiped it from her lips, hoping John wouldn’t have noticed.

He noticed.

“Princess?!” He shouted alarmed. “Are you alright? What’s happened to you?”

“It’s nothing,” she assured him.

“Princess you coughed up blood, which is not something that means nothing. What’s happened?”

Terra sighed. “I took his pain,” she explained. “You can’t just take pain and make it disappear. It has to go somewhere. Very skilled healers can turn it into nothing but I am not that skilled.”

“So you took his pain into yourself,” he asked. “Wait, does that mean that you’ll die?”

“No,” she assured him, feeling herself start to fight off the pain. “I took only enough to make him comfortable in the end. I’ll be fine in a few moments. Can you . . .”

Terra was cut off by the sound of the horses whinnying and stamping their feet. John ran up the side of the embankment in time to see a cloaked figure ride off on the princess’s mare.

“Stop! Thief!” He yelled running down the road a ways. He stopped and ran back to the princess.

“Someone’s taken you horse,” he said quickly. “Can you walk?” He offered her his hand. She took it but found she could not make herself stand. Her legs shook violently underneath her when she tried. She looked like a new born colt trying to walk.

“It’s no good,” she told John. “I’ll be down for at least the next ten minutes. Take your horse catch her. We can’t let her get away.”

“You think it’s his lady?”

“I do. She’s just given birth and gone through a terrible accident. She might not be thinking straight. We have to stop her before she hurts herself. You have to go.”

“I won’t leave you here, unprotected and unable to defend yourself.”

“We don’t have much choice.”

“Yes we do.” He ran back to where his mustang was shying nervously away from the tree John had left him near. It took a second to calm him enough that so that John could grab the reigns and lead him back down to where Terra was still trying to stand. He left his horse on the road and slid back down the embankment.

He pulled the cloak gently out from under the man’s head and draped it over this body. He then turned to Terra.

“With your permission Princess,” He said.

Confused, she only nodded.

John bent down and scooped her up his arms like a baby. He turned and walked back up the embankment to his horse. Terra sat in his arms, mildly shocked. John was shorter than most guards, hardly taller than she was. He also didn’t look terribly strong. However, the way he carried her up onto the road suggests that her previous assessments of his strength fell tragically short of the truth.

“I’m going to set you down, do you think you can lean against Zeus and stand?”

“I think so.”

John set her feet on the ground and leaned her against the horse. Terra rested her head on his hindquarters and breathed in the sweet smell of horse as John vaulted up into the saddle. Carefully he reached down and offered her his hand. Grasping it, she was pulled up onto Zeus’s back. John took less than a second to position her in front of him before he grabbed the reigns.

“Hold on,” he shouted as he urged Zeus on. He leaned forward in the saddle and called out, “HUP HUP!”

Zeus took off like a shot out of a cannon. Terra was thrown into John who seemed to not notice at all as he took off after the stolen horse and its rider. Being on a young mustang chasing an older mare, it took very little time for them to catch sight of Venus just clearing the woods.

John leaned further forward, Zeus seemed to catch the meaning and put on a burst of speed. As they emerged from woods Terra was shocked to find that clouds now covered the sky. Dark clouds that threatened to rain down on them at any moment.

“We almost have her,” John shouted over the sounds of wind whipping by and horse’s hooves on the dirt road. “Wait, what are they doing!?”

Terra turned her head carefully and looked forward. She suddenly understood John’s shock. As she watched, the huge wooden doors that lead into the castle town were swinging closed. At this distance she could just make out the soldiers on the wall, their armor glinting in what was left of the afternoon light.

Moments before the doors were closed a wall of shadows sprang up suddenly blocking the front of the gate completely. There was no way to get through now. There were at least two dozen shadows standing so close together there was no light visible between them.

Strangest of all, every one of the shadows had their eyes closed.

Terra watched as the hooded figure jumped suddenly from the horse’s back, hit the ground and rolled. She was on her feet in a heartbeat. Venus, scared and unable to stop in time, ran directly into the shadows.

Venus screamed in a way that made Terra’s blood run cold. She watched, horrified, as her horse suddenly ceased to be. Still the shadows hovered in place, taking no notice of the horse they had just killed. Terra’s heart ached for the loss of her old friend.

“Whoa,” John called out to Zeus, slowing him down as the approached the front of the city walls.

“What’s happening?” Terra wondered out loud.

At the sound of her voice, every shadow’s eyes snapped open, zeroing in on her location so quickly it didn’t seem possible. Lighting struck one of the guard towers that rose up off the wall and thunder clapped loudly overhead.

Zeus cried out loudly and bucked.

Caught off guard, Terra slipped from the front of the saddle and fell to the ground. She landed flat on her back and smacked her head against the packed dirt road with a sickening thud.

For a moment the world spun as she stared up at the dark grey sky.

She shook her head and the world came back in a sharp relief.

Zeus, still frightened by the presence of the shadows and the thunder booming overhead, continued to buck and shy as John fought to control him. Terra saw the horse’s hooves land dangerously close to her leg.

Terrified, she rolled on to her hands and knees and scrambled to get away. A hand shot out in front of her suddenly. Not thinking, she reached out and grabbed the hand. There was the sound of grunting, and the Terra was pulled to her feet.

“Thank you,” She said, finding herself face to face with the woman who’d moments ago stolen her horse. Her hood had blown back in the fall and her long red hair was falling in cascades down her shoulders. Her dress was dark blue and filled with intricate details. In her arms she was carrying a small bundle that stirred and cried. She shifted the bundle to her other arm and Terra caught sight of the babies little face.

He was adorable.

“Least I could do,” she replied, a northern accent heavy in her speech. “After stealing your horse.”

“Look out,” Terra cried, pushing the woman behind her as Zeus bucked near them. Another lightning strike sent the horse running down the lane toward the woods again. John was thrown clear off the horse as he ran.

Terra rushed forward as he fell and managed to get under him before he hit the ground. Together they fell backward into the dirt. John wasn’t too heavy so it didn’t hurt badly when he landed on top of her. It did, however, manage to knock the wind out of her.

“Terra!” John cried rolling off of her. He jumped to his feet and pulled her up. “What in the name of the Creator did you do that for? I could have killed you!”

“You hardly scratched me,” she grunted, accepting the hand.

“I hate to interrupt,” the woman called running over, “But we have bigger problems right now.”

Terra and John turned to see the wall of shadows was slowly progressing closer to them. It had covered nearly ten feet in the time it took Terra to catch John.

“Dear spirits,” the princess whispered.

“I don’t think they’ll be much help right now,” the woman remarked.

Taking a calculated risk, Terra looked up at their eyes. Even without pupils, she could tell they were all looking at her. She stepped right and then left. Where ever she went their eyes followed. They were here for her.

“Damn,” she muttered. “John take this young woman . . .”

“Persephone,” she interjected. “My name is Persephone.”

“Ok, John take Persephone and her son and when I say, run around the wall of shadows. When the men at the gate see it’s you they should let you in.”

“Princess I will not abandon you here to die. Not only that, but the shadows would be on us in an instant if we get to close.”

“No they won’t,” Terra countered. “It’s me they want. I’m the only one they’re after.”

“It’s true,” Persephone added. “They didn’t open their eyes or even start moving until after she started speaking.”

“It doesn’t matter!” John shouted. “You’re my princess and I won’t let you come to harm!”

“Damn it John!” She yelled, she could tell they didn’t have much time. “I am your princess and I am ordering you to take this woman and her child to safety.”

John looked insolently at Terra for a moment, ready to disobey. Instead he glowered at her and saluted. “As you wish highness.” His voice was hurt and a little icy but Terra didn’t have time to worry about his feelings right then.

“I’m going to run forward and then bank left toward the woods. When I do that they should follow me. Head right and slip around them.”

“What about you?” He demanded.

“I can handle a few shadows. Now get ready.” Terra took off running right at the shadows. She banked sharply left and cried, “Now!”

John grabbed Persephone’s wrist and dragged her as he ran to the right as Terra had instructed. Just as she had predicted, the shadows paid no attention to either he or Persephone. They ran around and past the shadows, all the way to the gates of the city.

“Let us in!” John cried as he banged on the doors.

A few heads popped over the wall above the doors. There was a sudden shouting followed by the sound of the small wooden door, placed inside the larger door, opening up. A solider John didn’t recognize ushered them in and promptly closed the door again, sliding the bolt all the way home.

“What are you doing you fool!” He shouted. “That’s Princess Terra out there!”

Terra watched as John and Persephone slipped through the smaller door to safety. With a sigh, she turned back to the shadows. They had followed her to the edge of the woods. She knew to try and escape through the trees would be suicide. She had to lead them back the other way so she could get around them.

She started forward and stopped. They were beginning to circle around her, pushing her back to the trees. She was completely blocked off before she could formulate a plan of escape. They started to push in, forcing her back step by step. A sudden feeling of dread forced Terra to turn quickly and face the woods.

Another near dozen shadows emerged from the trees behind her. They closed ranks with others and formed a tight circle around her. There was no escape at all. With nearly forty shadows surrounding her, she knew she was out numbered several times over.

A few shadows she could purify and be safe. This many, however, this was more than she could handle on her own, still weak from helping the man pass on. She knew she was done for. Even if John had run straight to the castle for help, he would never be back in time to save her.

At least she had managed to save that woman and her child. John though, she knew he would blame himself for this. He would feel the guilt and responsibility of her death. She couldn’t put that on him. He didn’t deserve to carry that around.

Terra closed her eyes, not caring about her impending doom as it circled around her. She reached out with her mind and searched for John. Bell had taught her how to reach out with her mind and project her consciousness over distance. She didn’t need to appear before him she just needed him to hear her.

She found him, running for the castle. He was still so far away; he wouldn’t even make it to the doors in time.

“John,” she said, knowing he would hear her in his mind. “I’m sorry John. I thought I could get away. I thought I’d have time and I was wrong. I need you to not blame yourself for my death. There was nothing you could have done to prevent this. You did as I ordered and saved that woman and her son.

“Thank you for that. Thank you for being a good friend and doing what I asked of you in the end even though you didn’t want to.”

Terra hesitated for a moment. Taking another deep breath she continued. “John I need you to tell Eric something for me. I know he might be mad at first, but please I need him to know this before I’m gone.”

Tell him I love him,’ Terra’s voice echoed in John’s head. ‘Tell him I’m sorry I couldn’t tell him before. He knows why. Please tell him how sorry I am that I couldn’t tell him in person.’

There was a pause and John feared what the sudden silence meant.

And tell him that I took down as many of these bastards as I could before they got me.’

John pushed his legs to run faster. He screamed at people to get out of the way as he ran, screaming for Eric. He was almost to the doors when he felt the princess in his head one last time.

Tell Eric he’s the only thing that made my life worth living. He was the only person who ever saw me for me. Tell him how much that meant to me and how sorry I am I never told him. Thank you John, for everything and I’m sorry, again.’

Just like that the connection was severed and John could no longer feel the princess. She was gone. He slowed for a moment, tears in his eyes making it hard for him to see. He had known Terra for a while now and in that time he’d grown to respect her. She was more than his princess, she was his friend. The sudden loss of her hit him like a two ton weight to the chest.

He stumbled and fell to his knees, tears flowing freely from his face.

Hands he couldn’t see grasped his arms and shoulders. They hauled him to his feet and helped him keep running toward the castle gates. He couldn’t see who was helping him, but he was grateful for their aid.

“Hold on John,” a familiar voice said gruffly. “We’ll get you to the castle.”

John blinked away his tears. Holding his right arm was the Harold, the Master Builder, on his left was a man he knew to be the Master Carpenter for the Kingdom, though he didn’t know the man’s name. Both had tears in their eyes and Harold had a few streaming down his face.

“What’s going on?” He asked.

Harold shifted so he was now supporting John’s weight as the carpenter jumped into a wagon tied to a horse. He extended his hands to John who took them without question. He was pulled into the wagon and the Master builder climbed in behind him.

Without a word, the other man grabbed the reigns and sent the horse flying down the main road to the castle gate.

“I don’t understand,” John shouted. “Why are you doing this?”

“We heard it too,” Harold said grimly. “As you ran past it was like somebody tuned us into your conversation with the princess. We heard the whole thing.”

“You heard all of that?” He asked, horrified that these men now knew how badly he had failed the Princess.

“We did,” Harold replied. “When we saw your direction we grabbed the wagon and raced after you. We nearly ran you over when you dropped suddenly. We stopped the horse and grabbed you. Now we’re headed to the castle.”

He didn’t say it, but John could feel him silently add “before it’s too late.”

Eric swung his sword down hard and sharp, slicing the top off the practice dummy. With a sword in hand there was very little he couldn’t do. He knew how to cut, parry, slice, jab, and he could render a man headless in one swing.

This he knew and this he could break down, analyze and understand. Unlike everything else in his life it seemed. He would never understand things like women.

Women made no sense at all.

He attacked the dummy again.

Women act like they love you, lead you on until you love them too. Make you feel like you’re the only one they’ll ever love. Lie to you and make you feel like your entire world revolves around them. Then they act all shocked and shaken when tell them how you feel like they asked you to!

Eric brought his sword down in a deadly arc, splitting the dummy in two.

He sheathed his sword, panting heavily. Using the sleeve of his practice tunic, he wiped the sweat from his face and walked over to the nearby window. He opened the shutters and stuck his head outside. The wind blew past gently, cooling his face and carrying the scent of coming rain.

Suddenly the door he had closed for privacy burst open.

Bell came rushing in followed closely behind by John, Harold the Master Builder, and Thomas the Master Carpenter.

Shocked Eric just stared.

“Eric there is not to explain,” Bell panted, “Terra is in trouble and you’re the only one who can save her.”

Eric’s heart began to race again. He took a breath and tampered it off. He wouldn’t allow himself to jump back into something that might have nothing to do with him.

“What’s wrong?” He asked coolly.

“Damn it boy this is not time for you to coddle your wounded pride. She could die!” Bell burst out, his usual calm demeanor gone at the sight of Eric’s indifference.

Like a bucket of cold water to the face, Bell’s words and appearance snapped him out of his mood. “What’s happened? Where is she?” He demanded.

“There’s no time to explain,” Bell reiterated. “She is just outside the city gates. You need to open you half of the bond and help her. She needs your strength to survive. Without your help she will die!”

Eric was too stunned to speak.

Frustrated, Bell grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him violently. “I don’t care if you’re feeling hurt or feeling like she betrayed you. You are the only person who can help her. Now open you half of the bond and help her!”

“I c . . . can’t,” Eric stammered. “I didn’t even know it was closed.”

“Of course it’s closed. Your anger and resentment toward her closed it. You have to let all that go if we’re going to save Terra. Do you understand? You have to let it go or she will die.”

Eric felt suddenly like a child being scolded by a father.

“I don’t know how to let it go,” he answered timidly. “I don’t know how any of this works.

“You have to let you feelings go! Focus on Terra and the bond. Try to connect with her through the bond. Once it’s open she can pull strength from you when she needs it.” Bell explained as slowly as he could. He knew Eric knew little about magic, but there was no time to coddle him now.

He tried to do as Bell had instructed him. He tried to reach out to Terra through the bond but when he tried he couldn’t feel anything. He tried again and again but the result stayed the same. He looked up helpless at Bell who seemed to tower angrily over him.

“I can’t reach her,” he cried, defeated.

“You cannot fail!” Bell shouted. “There is no more time. You have to do it! DO IT NOW!”

Terra spun around exhausted.

She had managed to take down six of the nearly forty shadows that surrounded her. She was breathing heavily and she could feel her strength start to wane. She didn’t know how much longer she could keep going. At this rate she would be dead before the next two shadows fell.

Each time she would purify a shadow, the others would close the circle around her faster. Every few seconds a shadow flew from one side of the circle to the other. Sometimes Terra could dodge it, other times she would purify it as it got close. With each passing action Terra felt herself get closer and closer to the end of her strength.

A shadow came at her from the right, she jumped backward and avoided it, but she stumbled and fell to her knees. She was panting now and her chest was getting tight. She couldn’t go on much longer.

She tried to push off the ground to stand, but she was upright for less than a second before her legs gave out. She sank back down to the ground and had to throw herself violently to the left to avoid another shadow. She rolled to the center of the circle and stopped, flat on her back. She was done. Her strength had failed her and there was nothing more she could do.

Around her the shadows slowly moved in closer.

Terra tried to sit up. A sharp pain under her ribs brought her back down. It hurt every time she tried to take a breath. Tears in her eyes, Terra resigned herself to her end. She stared up at the dark grey sky. She could hear thunder somewhere nearby and every so often she could see the faintest light from lightning. She wondered if she would get to see the rain again before she died.

As if the sky were answering her, the rain began to come down. In a few seconds she was soaked. Terra smiled, glad to feel the rain one last time.

Shadows were absorbed by other shadows as they closed in around her. It wouldn’t be long now. Terra wondered if John had gotten to Eric. What would he say when he heard she died? Would he happy or sad? Would he blame John for her death? Or would he know that John had done as she had asked him to? She tried to use the bond to reach out to him, but again there was nothing on the other side.

Terra stared at the sky as her tears mixed with the rain.

Grey.

What would happen to Grey if she died? Would he be set free without her magic to hold him in the box? Or would he die in there without her around to pass the barrier? She wondered what his reaction to her death would be. She would never admit it out loud or even to herself, but she would miss him. She had really started to care for him. Terra knew she had been so close to purifying him, she could feel the change in him.

It was too late for all of that now.

There was sudden crackling in the air. Terra looked around to see the shadows were close enough now that should could have reached over and touched them if she wanted. As she waited for death, she could feel something shift suddenly around her. She looked up in time to see lightning strike the ground directly in front of her.

Around Terra the wind picked up suddenly. Swirling around her and blowing the rain around in odd directions. She was suddenly overcome by a huge influx of energy. She could feel it, swirling around her pouring through her. It took the pain from her rips and the exhaustion from her muscles. There was suddenly breath in her lungs and energy enough to stand.

Slowly she rose to her feet, knowing despite this new found energy, time was not on her side. Carefully she took stock of her situation. There were still eight shadows around her closing in fast. She couldn’t’ get them all one by one, there was no way. They were moving too fast for her to attempt that. She would either have to take them all on at once or this new energy wouldn’t change a thing.

Terra thought back to Bell in the classroom. She had done something then that had enabled her purify every shadow in the room. There had been fewer shadows then but the same principles should apply to now. She just had to figure out what she had done.

Taking a few deep breaths she closed her eyes. She could feel a tether; one end attached to her the other to whoever was providing her with their energy. She silently asked the person to help her just a little bit more. She just needed a little more energy and she knew she could take them. She felt another rush of strength as the shadows closed the distance between them. There was only six now, the same as the other day.

“Please,” Terra whispered.

She brought her hands up and laced her fingers together like she was praying. Quietly she sent up a prayer of thanks for the person who’d helped her and focused all of the energy she had on the light she always saw when she purified a shadow.

She willed that light to come now, begged it to come forth and saver her again as she had before. There was a strange moment of silence, where Terra could hear nothing, not the rain, not the thunder, not even her own heartbeat.

Then came the thundering boom and the circle of white light exploded out of her hands and rapidly expanded around her, purifying everything around. Each shadow exploded into their own beam of blinding white light. The combination of the ring of light and the shadows exploding made a light around Terra so bright she couldn’t see anymore.

Bell, John, Harold, Thomas, Eric and a nearly half the town stood in the arch of the gateway, watching as the dark afternoon lit up like midday. Where the Princess had been standing seconds before, surrounded by shadows, a light suddenly exploded from the earth, blinding everyone who had been watching. In a sea of mixed emotions the people watched as the light began to fade and Terra stood on her own, surrounded by flecks of grass and leaves that had been caught up in the explosion of light.

She stood there, hands clasped under her chin, like she was in prayer. Her dress had been washed clean by the rain, though the sheer cap sleeves had been destroyed and her hair, which had come down during her struggle, blew around her in dark black ringlets soaked by rain. Her shoes were gone too he notice, they could just see the pink of her toes from this distance. She looked like one of the old Goddesses the people in the hills talked about some times.

Terra raised her head and looked up at the people standing on the wall and pouring out of the opened gates. She smiled, seeing everyone was safe. Eric felt more than saw when her eyes met his. She looked like she wanted to say something, but the next second her eyes rolled back and she dropped to the ground.

Everyone cried out as Eric, Bell and John raced forward.

Eric ran and hit the ground sliding on his knees and coming to a stop at Terra’s side. He scooped her up in his arms put his ear to her chest. He tried to hear a heartbeat, but there was nothing. He couldn’t hear a thing. Her heart wasn’t beating.

“I can’t hear her heart beat,” he cried miserably as Bell and John came running up. “I think she’s dead.” There was an outcry from the town as they heard what Eric said. He could hear the news spread through the small collection of people like fire through dry grass.

“Let me see her,” Bell demanded, lifting her carefully out of Eric’s hands. “John, take hold of her legs.” John nodded and wrapped his arms around her knees. Bell supported her upper body in one hand and put his other hand over her chest. He could instantly feel her heart beating. It was a little slow, but that could easily be explained by her lack of energy.

“She’s not dead,” Bell explained loud enough for everyone to hear. “Eric, give me your hand.”

Standing Eric extended his right and to Bell.

Bell grabbed his hand and placed it directly on Terra’s chest. “I need you to breathe,” he said. “Breathe and think of Terra breathing. Think of her opening her eyes and looking at you. When you feel something pull at you, let if pull. That’s the bond trying to pull energy to wake her up. Let it take what it needs.”

Eric nodded, not trusting his voice. He thought about Terra’s big green eyes, with their circle of gold around the pupil and the ring of blue around the outside and how they could convey so much emotion. He thought of how it made the pit of his stomach flutter whenever she looked at him with her eyes shining.

He loved her eyes.

“Open your eyes,” Eric pleaded, “Please open your eyes.”

There was a sudden pull, like suction, on the palm of his hand. He resisted for a moment and then simply let go. He could feel the energy flowing from him, through his arm, into Terra. After just a few moments Terra began to stir.

“That’s enough,” Bell said removing his hand.

Terra’s head rolled around for a moment before her eyes opened slowly. She looked up at Bell, then John and finally to Eric. She held his gaze for a long time.

“What happened?” She asked.

“You depleted all of your energy,” Bell sighed, “again. How are you feeling?”

“I’m alright, I think.” She guessed, she made a mental check of everything. Nothing seemed to be broken or damaged.

“Can you stand?” Bell asked.

“I think so,” she answered with a nod. Carefully John lowered her feet on to the ground as Bell straightened her out. She stood for a moment and then nearly toppled to the ground. Eric was at her side in a second. He wrapped her arm around his neck and supported her.

“Thank you,” she said, feeling a rush emotion as Eric smiled at her. “I’m ok now,” she said standing up on her own.

“Are you sure?” Eric asked.

“Yes, I feel just fine now, thanks to you all.”

“Terra,” Bell whispered. “I know this is going to seem odd, but there are a lot of people behind me who are waiting to see if you’re alright.”

“Oh . . .” she stammered, not sure what to do about masses of people waiting for her.

“When we turn around you should wave to everyone, let them know you’re alright. Everything you just went through was seen by everyone on that wall. They need to see you turn around triumphantly. Do you think you can do that?” He asked. “Can you walk through the gates? We can carry you if need be.”

“No,” she assured them, strengthening her resolve. “I can do this, let’s go.”

“Eric, stay on Terra’s left, John stand at her right. I’ll follow you in and keep the crowd from following too closely. Remember, no matter what really happened, this is a victory for Sol.”

Terra nodded as the boys took up their positions on either side of her. Bell nodded too, pleased by what he saw. He stepped back and behind Terra.

Once the people caught sight of their princess, battle worn but still standing, they erupted into shouts and applause. It seemed like the entire town had emptied out of the gates to see what was going on, despite the torrential down pour.

“Dear spirits,” Terra muttered.

“You can do this,” Eric encouraged her, taking her left hand.

“We’re right here for you,” John added taking her right hand.

“Ok. Let’s go.”

Together the three of them walked hand in hand toward the city gate. People cheered and called to them as they walked through the archway. Every one parted around them as they walked through. Terra kept her head up and smiled at everyone whose eyes she met.

“Princess,” some called as she walked past. Others just smiled. Some thanked her for what she had done.

One woman, who Terra had never seen before, reached out and touched her on the shoulder. Terra, Eric and John came to a stop. She smiled at the princess and said, “Bless you Princess. Blessed by the creator.” A mummer went through the crowd at the woman’s words.

“Her wings,” someone shouted from the crowd. Terra looked around confused. John and Eric both started walking and she was pulled along with them.

As they made their way slowly through the throngs of people more and more they started reaching out to touch the scars on her shoulders. A hush fell over the crowd as they gathered closer around them, each reaching out hoping for a chance to touch the princess. She tried very hard not to be alarmed.

Terra glanced to John and then to Eric, both had smiles on their faces, both looked proud to be leading her through the crowds of people toward the castle.

Diana rolled over in her bed. It was getting cold. She could hear the rain and thunder outside her windows. Rain meant the sun was gone and that her room was getting colder. She could have pulled up the spare blanket at the foot her bed but she was “sick” and she didn’t feel she should have to do anything.

“Sarah!” She shouted, calling for one of her ladies in waiting.

When no one answered she started to get frustrated.

“Sarah! Jane! Rose! Someone answer me!” She bellowed.

There was the sound of footsteps running in the hall and Diana sat up on her bed, waiting for her ladies to come running in. She would make sure they think twice before making her call twice again. Foolish girls, she could replace them so easily. They should be more careful not to try her patience in the future.

She heard the footsteps run passed her room.

“Excuse me!” She shouted as a group of people ran past her door. “You!” She called as a young man ran passed.

He stopped and looked around. “Me, highness?” He asked pointing to himself.

“Yes you!” She snapped. “What is going on!? Where is everyone going? And where are my ladies?!”

“Haven’t you heard Highness?” He asked. “There’s talk of a shadows outside the city gates and something’s happened to Princess Terra.”

“Terra?” She asked, amused. “Has she died?” She asked, unable to keep a thread of elation out of her voice.

“I don’t know highness. I was going to find out.”

“Do that then,” she waved him off dismissively. “If you see my ladies send them to me at once!”

“Yes highness,” the boy said pulling his cap off and bowing. He backed out of the room slowly and then took off running down the hall.

Diana lay back in bed, considering what it might mean if Terra had died.

By the time Terra, John, Eric and Bell reached the gates to the castle, everyone seemed to have heard the news about the princess. Including her father, who was standing at the gates waiting for them.

She stopped in her tracks when she saw the look on her father’s face.

“Don’t stop now,” Eric encouraged under his breath. “It’ll only get worse if you wait.”

“You can do this,” John added with a smile.

With a nod they continued forward again. Just before they reached the gates, King Sol’s stern face broke as he rushed forward and grabbed Terra. He held her for a moment looking down into her eyes. A single tear rolled down his cheek as he took in the sight of her. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly.

“My baby,” he whispered holding her in his arms. He rocked back and forth holding her for several moments while he whispered to her how much he loved her and how worried he was about her.

“Papa,” Terra whispered. “Papa I’m so sorry. I just when out for a ride and there was this over turned carriage.”

“I know,” King Sol assured her, “I know about the carriage and the shadows at the gate but what happened after that? How did you get away?”

“It’s a very long story, Majesty,” Bell cut in. “Perhaps a story best left for private.”

King Sol glanced around at the mass of people who had followed Terra to the gates. They were all staring at her in a way the King didn’t really understand at first. Then it dawned on him.

Reverence.

They were looking at her like she was their Queen. In this moment, they worshiped her as their ruler. It was a kind of respect that was hard won. Especially in times like these.

“You’re right,” King Sol agreed. “Let’s go inside.”

“Father,” Terra asked as he turned to leave. “Can we wait, for just a moment?”

“Of course,” he replied. “Is everything alright?”

“Yes,” she smiled,” Just one minute.”

Terra stepped back twice and then turned. She walked back to the gates where the people were still gathered around watching. Eric and John followed her down and stood on either side of her. Terra walked through the gateway and back out into the throngs of people. They circled around her and the boys and waited to hear what she had to say.

“Thank you,” she called loud enough for everyone around to hear. “Thank you to all of you for caring about me so much and for seeing me safely back to my father. I can’t tell you how much it means to know that I have all of you looking out for me.”

“Princess,” someone called, “how did you do it? How did you use light to drive the shadows away?”

“I did what I had to do to keep this city and this kingdom safe,” Terra called over the sound of the rain. “I can’t say exactly how I used the light. I only know that I was fortunate enough to be able to use it to save my life and lives of my friends.” She reached back grabbed John’s hand. She squeezed it and then let it go again.

“But princess,” A woman near the front called to her. “Won’t the shadows come back?”

Terra shook her head. “No. I believe those shadows were here for a specific target and purpose. Now that they’re gone I’m nearly certain they won’t return.”

“What were they after?” Someone called.

“Who was their target?” Another voice from the left.

She turned to look at Eric. He nodded, it would be best to be honest.

Terra sighed and explained, “I was their target. They were coming after me. I don’t know what they wanted from me, but I do know that they were unsuccessful in getting it. I know . . . I know . . .” she faltered as she felt the world start to spin.

Eric was at her side as soon as started to faint. Her knees buckled and she went down. He caught her and scooped her up in his arms. He swung around and started back toward the castle.

As he carried her away the people outside the gate got down on one knee, bowed their heads, and placed their fists to their hearts to Terra as she passed. Even after Eric and the rest of the group were walking up the castle steps, the people stayed on their knees. It wasn’t until she disappeared from sight that they rose again and saluted her. It was the most respect they could pay a person, and they paid it to Terra.

Diana stood in a window near the front of the castle. She watched as her sister was carried in and as the people around the gate fell to their knees to honor her. She felt rage then like she could not believe. It was stronger than anything else she had ever felt. Stronger than any emotion she had felt ever.

Watching her sister be honored in a way she never had before made her consider, not for the first time, that maybe Terra was going to be a bigger problem than she had originally thought. She was usually just nuisance, a bother, easily ignored and often forgotten about. However, Diana had stood in the window, and even from here she could see the blinding white light that she assumed had come from Terra. Whatever it was, it was powerful and that made her little sister more dangerous than she had previously considered.

If she wasn’t careful, Terra might just find herself in Diana’s way. Now that right there, that was a dangerous place to be.

Deciding she needed time to think over this new information and what it meant to her and her plans for the future; Diana turned on her heel and walked back to her room.


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