Krystel helped Airic's mother prepare supper. They were celebrating his birthday tonight, and Emessa and Krystel were having battles to decide who was more excited for it. Emessa claimed that she knew something Krystel did not, but Krystel had her guess. Aglaia and her parents were invited to come celebrate, as well as many of Airic's friends. Of course, they all knew full well what was actually going on, but refused to tell Krystel anything, only confirming Krystal's suspicions. Krystel, indeed, was the most excited.
The time of the party arrived, friends of Airic's came and congratulated him. No one could keep their eyes off of Krystel for more than a few seconds, and Airic was no exception to that. Finally, he decided that the time had come. He took a deep breath, then quieted everyone down.
"I would like to thank everyone for coming tonight," he started, his voice shaking just the tiniest bit. "I appreciate it, truly." He paused fora moment before continuing on. "It is my birthday today. I am now officially eighteen. I have received a few presents throughout the day, and I thank those of you who brought me one. Although I must say that my favorite gift is the one I am about to receive." Airic smiled. "Krystel, would you come forward please?"
Krystel stepped out of the crowd and walked towards Airic, a large smile on her face. She stopped a few feet away from him. Airic took a deep breath and continued. "Krystel, I have only known you for a few years, but you have been an amazing addition to my life. You have become my best friend, and I could not imagine my life without you." Krystel tried her hardest to keep her excitement inside while he spoke. Airic had his own large smile. "So that is why, on this day, I would like a very simple present from you: an answer to this question."
Behind him, one of Airic's friends offered him a small black box. Airic took it and, with another deep breath, lowered himself down onto one knee. Tears pricked at Krystel's eyes. Aglaia and Emessa tried to hold in squeals of joy. "Krystel," Airic said, opening the box to show a beautifully crafted ring. Krystel's eyes went wide at the sight, her jaw dropping slightly. "Will you do me the honors of becoming my wife?"
"Yes!" Krystel yelled, grabbing his hands. "Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes!" Airic stood up as quickly as he could, and the two embraced each other tightly before kissing. Loud cheers and happy cries were heard around the room. Suddenly everyone was celebrating, including the mysterious girl sitting high up in a tree.
"Hmmm," she mused to herself, "kill them all now? Or wait until closer to the wedding day?" A familiar feeling rushed through her. She clung to the tree trunk as her body convulsed. This continued on for several minutes, all the while congratulations could be heard from down below. After a few minutes, she was able to relax her body, though her mind remained just as active.
"We don't have time to wait," the voices hissed angrily. "Every day you lose more control. Every day you lose more power. Every day you lose more."
"We have to do this right," Mabella insisted, going back to watching the party. "Too soon or too late and then we'll be in even more trouble." The main excitement, had died down, while there was still plenty going around. She listened closely, hoping for some other piece of information.
"When will the date be?" Aglaia demanded Airic for the seventh time. "I need to know so I can properly prepare to help Krystel to properly prepare for walking down the aisle perfectly." Airic opened his mouth to tell her the same answer he had been giving: they didn't know yet; but Krystel opened her mouth faster and the words came out smoother.
"A few days after my birthday this year," she answered, giving Aglaia the satisfaction she wanted. Of course there were thousands of other questions that had to be asked as well, but they could come in their own due time.
Airic looked at Krystel in surprise. "So soon?" he asked.
"It is only two months away. That should be enough time to get everything, as Aglaia has said, 'properly prepared'. Would you agree?"
Airic smiled. Part of him could not believe that this was happening. So much of his life with her had often felt like a dream, a picture perfect moment that had never stopped. Krystel felt the same way. She had been right about the events of the night, though she was still burning with happiness. Nothing could go wrong tonight; even if it did she felt as though she would handle it with great care and patience, as opposed to her other ways of dealing with things.
Mabella did feel a small tinge of happiness for the two lovebirds. If she had never gotten involved here they would have had a happy life together. But things do not always work out the way we plan them. "We wait then," she said. "We wait and we watch. Until she is ready." The Soul did not like that, but knew that Krystel was its best chance at changing hosts, at surviving. This body was about to burn up, and that would impair the Soul and its abilities. No, it couldn't take that kind of chance. Krystel it would be, and for Krystel, it would wait.
– – –
The time had passed quickly, and everyone was excited: the townspeople for someone finally taking Krystel out of their hair once and for all; Aglaia and her parents for the enchanted preparations they had down for the music, decorations, and the guest list; Krystel and Airic for having their one true evening; and Mabella for finally being able to pass along the Black Soul before she burned up. Everything was going accordingly to plan.
Then came the day: Krystel's birthday, three days before her marriage. A small group of people were invited to Airic's home to celebrate. The almost–married couple danced away, while Mabella planned her move.
"Now," the voices said. "We must go now!" The Soul was getting impatient with Mabella and her stubborn ways. It was ready to move on, for Mabella's body to turn into dust and ash. But Mabella had a slightly different idea.
"Soon," she responded, breathing heavily. "Tonight, at just the right moment, we will strike."
The hours passed. Slowly, each guest departed. Day turned to night. Krystel finally left Airic's home with Aglaia, beginning the journey to their own. Mabella smiled, waiting until the figures of the two girls were out of sight, for the last of the activity in the cottage died down. "Now," she said. She dropped from the branch and landed silently on the ground.
The four members of the family were peacefully asleep. Mabella slid in through an open window. First she found the parents, curled together on their bed. With a smirk and one quick, fluid movement, she shoved her hand into his chest, and ripped out his heart. Warm blood spurted everywhere. The sound was enough to make his wife stir, and begin to open her eyes. Mabella grabbed her head and twisted it harshly before she got much further. Next she sought the child. She peeked into one room, and found Airic. The voices told her to go in, to end him, but she shook her head. "Not yet, darling," she whispered to him. "I'm saving the best for last."
The next room was empty; she figured it must be for when Krystel had stayed nights here. There was one room left. Mabella crept along, through the door. Moonlight shone through the window, lighting the room. The little sister lied on her bed, covered in blankets and breathing evenly. Even in her murderous state, Mabella could sense the child's innocence. She observed the child for a minute. "I'll kill you quickly, painlessly," she told her, knowing she couldn't be heard. "Someone like you deserves that much." Mabella carefully opened Emessa's mouth, and motioned as if she was pulling something out of it.
A white, wispy thread came out, flowing like water. There were very few black spots on there. Emessa breathed out for her final time. Cupping her hands, holding the child's Soul tenderly, Mabella walked to the window. She opened it, and blew the Soul gently, sending it upwards. Every Soul went up when the body died. No one knew why. She watched it float on for a few moments, then continued on her plan. She walked normally now, no need to keep secretive. There was one person left to take care of.
Mabella pushed Airic's door open and looked at him for just a moment. "Now, how shall I kill you?" she wondered out loud. "Nothing nearly as gruesome as what your parents got, but nowhere near the kind way I did for your sister." She wandered in and sat down on the edge of his bed. He stirred, but remained asleep. "No, you need something special. But what to do, what to do..." A spark entered her eye, and her plan was complete. She stood up, and with an upward flick of her wrist, she snapped.
Airic was shocked awake from pain. His body was on fire. He sprang up, trying to put it out. He yelled for help, and looked around. There, in his room, was a girl, all dressed in black with a wicked smile on her face. "Help! Help me!" he cried to her.
Mabella looked at him with a pitiful glance. "Sorry love. I need your girlfriend. And in order to get her, well, you need to be out of the picture." Airic fell to the ground from the pain. The wood below him started to heat up, then caught the flame as well. Fire was soon spreading all around the cottage, burning with it the other dead bodies. Mabella gave him a small bow. "See you in the afterlife, darling. If there is one." She jumped out his window, and made her way to the front to watch her handiwork. Her time was cut short, however, and neighbors soon awoke and found the fire. She escaped to her tree to hide. Quickly at least half the town, probably more, was awake and aware, and trying their hardest to help put it out. Krystel was still nowhere to be seen.
All Mabella did was smile. Airic was dead. They would soon find out that all of them were. And soon she could not wait until Krystel found out. Oh, the sweet pain that would come. And then, finally, Mabella would be free. All she had left to do was wait.
* * *
Krystel found out the next day. She knew something was off; everyone was staring at her with pity as she and Aglaia made their way to Airic's home. Some were whispering as she walked by, others looked away when she glanced at them. She leaned close to Aglaia and said quietly, "What do you think is going on? Did something happen?"
Aglaia shook her head, at a loss for words. "I am not sure. Surely, something must have, else why would everyone be acting this way?" Krystel shook her head in response, not saying anything. The closer they got to their destination the more worried she became. A few people they passed smelled of smoke and were covered in ash. The smell continued getting stronger. Krystel put the pieces together.
"No," she mumbled, so quietly she could barely hear herself. "No, no, no." She quickened her pace until she was running; Aglaia managed to match her speed. They both stopped short when what used to be the cottage came into view.
There was very little left there. Scorched frames and the ground. The fire had been put out just hours before. Krystel just stared. "No…"
One of the townspeople who had helped put the fire out saw the two girls standing there. He sighed, and walked over to them. "I, uh, I apologize," he said awkwardly, looking down. "The fire started out of nowhere last night. Many of us helped put it out, but…" he trailed off, not wanting to say it. "They did not make it out, and the fire burned away their bodies." Krystel shook her head, tears filling her eyes. "I—I truly am sorry for your loss." He bowed his head a bit, then walked away.
The two stood in silence, just staring, until Aglaia put her hand gently on Krystel's shoulder. "Krystel," she tried, "we should…" Krystel only shook her head. She did not want to move. She wanted to wake up, wake up and let this nightmare be over. Wake up and run to Airic, tell him all about it, how horrible it all was. "Krys." Aglaia moved in front of her, blocking her view of the remains. She grabbed Krystel's shoulders and shook her slightly.
Hot tears were silently streaming down Krystel's face. Aglaia could see it in her eyes: she was completely broken. "No," Krystel responded, still shaking her head. "No. No. No, 'Glaia, no." She wrapped her arms around her friend and buried her face in her shoulder, holding her tightly, and sobbed. Aglaia hugged Krystel back, squeezing, trying her best to comfort her. Aglaia had her own tears for the tragedy, but she was not engaged to the one who died. Krystel continued repeating the one word. After a few minutes her knees buckled and Aglaia helped lower her to the ground, still holding her.
They sat there for hours, though it seemed like days. Krystel cried all the tears she could. There was a physical pain, as if her heart had truly broken. Aglaia stayed and held her, not saying a word. There was nothing to say. Finally, Krystel picked her heavy head up, and looked at the scorch marks. Part of her wanted to start crying again, but there was no water left in her. She swallowed and looked down, then began standing up. They were both shaking, and had to rely on each other for support, but they slowly started walking away.
Krystel felt as though her steps were heavy. It felt like nothing was important anymore. Her mind was strangely clear, with not even a simple thought to be seen. All Aglaia could think about was how to help her friend through this. There did not seem to be anything she could do or say, and she knew Krystel would never get over it. It would haunt her, always, knowing they died the night of her birthday. It was something she would carry around with her for the rest of her life.
It took much longer than normal, but they did make it home. The people whispered and stared again, but Krystel did not care to notice. Aglaia helped her through the door, then to her room. Both girls collapsed on the bed, and without another word, fell asleep. Krystel dreamed of Airic, of his family. They were happy, and celebrating something. Krystel did not care what. He was there. He was alive. She woke up before Aglaia, hours later, and hated herself for creating such a dream.
* * *
Mabella watched the two girls struggle. While the Soul enjoyed their suffering, it was still growing impatient. She had had four more attacks during the previous week. She was nearly out of time. If it didn't get into Krystel soon, it might just fade away.
Three days after Krystel's birthday, after the fire, the town held a small ceremony for Airic and his family outside his home. There wasn't much that could be done, as all their bodies and belongings had been reduced to ash, but the Seer felt that Krystel might get some form of closure. Even a little bit is better than none. Krystel stood at the front of the crowd, Aglaia by her side. She was wearing her wedding dress, and a black cloak. She kept the hood on and her hair down around the sides of her face, trying to disappear. Aglaia had found a spare chain to put the ring on, and she wore it around her neck, clutching at it tightly. It was the only thing she had left to remind her of Airic.
The Seer, Xenia, began the traditional speech. "They were born, they had lived, they had loved, they have died. May their Souls be preserved in the afterlife safely. May their love reach us here. May their lives continue to touch our Souls."
"We will never forget," the crowd murmured together. A single tear slid down her cheek. Aglaia squeezed her hand. Krystel took a deep breath and looked up a bit. Everyone had begun leaving. Krystel waited. "Do you want a few minutes?" Aglaia asked her quietly. Krystel nodded. Aglaia gave her a sad smile and small hug. "I will be home, waiting for you, okay?" Krystel nodded again. Aglaia squeezed her hand one last time, then began walking away.
The Seer walked up to her. They were the only two left. "Everything will be alright, my dear," her kind voice said. "Time heals all wounds, even those that feel unhealable." She patted Krystel on the shoulder lovingly.
Krystel raised her head, and pushed aside the hair that was falling in her face, trying to show some respect to the woman. "Thank you for doing this," she said, her voice hoarse from not using it. "I appreciate it." The Seer smiled and nodded.
"Come talk to me whenever you wish, dear. Talking sometimes helps speed the process up a bit." She turned, and walked off.
Krystel was the only one there. She took several deep breaths, trying to keep herself stable. She stared deep into the forest. Part of her still hoped she would wake up, that he would come strolling out. But she knew. He was not coming back.
Something white flashed between two trees and caught Krystel's attention. She thought, for a moment, it might have been a trick of her imagination. Then she heard his voice. "Krystel," he called for her. She shook her head and took a few steps back.
"No," she said out loud. "No, Krystel, it is not real. It is not." Again came the flash and voice, "Krystel." She did not know what to do. Logic told her she should turn and run, go back to where it was safe. But her heart, her heart that was broken beyond repair, screamed that it was him. That she should try.
"Airic?" she asked tentatively. "Airic, is that you? Did – did you survive?" But if he had, she thought, he would have come and found me, right? There was only one way she was going to get any answers, and that was by going to him. Krystel made her decision, and quickly started walking towards the forest.
Now she truly felt like she was in a dream. No matter how close she got, how fast she was, he was always faster, always farther away. After a few minutes, she broke through the trees into a clearing. The grass was as tall as her shoulders. She stopped on the edge. There was no way she would find him in there. She heard her name again, louder, clearer this time, and decided on trying. She dove into the grass, running every which way, hoping to find him, hoping this was not a cruel joke someone was playing on her.
Krystel ran for a few more minutes before she collapsed on the ground, exhausted. She closed her eyes, blinded at the light coming down. That was when she heard the footsteps coming from behind her. Her eyes snapped open and she jumped up. "Airic?" she cried excitedly.
First there was silence. Then there was a chuckle. Krystel became confused. It did not sound like Airic anymore. The footsteps started again, coming towards her. She held her ground, scared, and angry, and hurt. The grass split in front of her and a girl stepped out. She was wearing all black and was a little shorter than Krystel.
"I'm sorry," she said mockingly, a smirk on her face. "Were you expecting someone else?" Krystel took a step away from the strange girl. "Hmmm."
"Who are you?" Krystel asked. Krystel had never seen her around Beaudale before, and she certainly did not understand why she was doing this. "What is going on?"
"What's going on, is that I need you. And in order to get you I had to take out a few people."
Krystel's eyes went wide. "You… you killed them." Her breathing became heavy, and every instinct inside her was telling her to run.
"Yes. Yes, I did." She seemed very proud of it. "I killed them all, and then I started the fire that got rid of them for good." She giggled, as if they were young girls and she had just told Krystel a secret. "Oh, and my name doesn't matter. You see, that's what I need you for."
Krystel shook her head. "No," she tried saying firmly, but was still too shocked to get the proper force behind it. "No, whatever it is, whatever you need me for, no, you cannot have me."
The girl laughed, loud and cruel. "Oh, Krystel dear," she said, her voice sickly sweet. "That isn't your choice to make."
It happened too quickly for Krystel to stop her. Her hands flew out, one grabbing her wrist and pulling her closer, the other wrapping tightly around her throat. She hoisted Krystel up, her feet off the ground, and squeezed. Krystel fought back, trying to kick her, pry her hand off, anything that could help. Her lungs soon screamed for oxygen, and she started seeing spots.
The girl took a deep breath in, then blew out gently. A wispy black cloud came out of her mouth and continued to grow. Krystel could hardly see it. Her vision went dark; her attempts to fight slipped away. She closed her eyes. The last thing she heard was the girl's voice: "Don't breathe."