Krystel inhaled deeply, her body shooting up. Her breathing was fast and ragged, and she could still see spots. But she was breathing. She was still alive. She blinked a few times, calmed her breathing down, and looked around. She was still in the clearing in the forest, but the other girl was gone. Very carefully, Krystel pushed herself up to a standing position.
She felt different, stronger somehow. Like there was a power inside of her she couldn't explain. She checked all over her body for wounds; nothing was out of place or missing. She did have a hand–shaped bruise forming around her wrist from where the girl held her, and felt another was forming around her neck.
Krystel never got her answers, but the girl was gone, and Krystel doubted she would be back anytime soon, if at all. Krystel decided she should get back to Aglaia. She looked around, trying to remember the way she had come into the clearing.
"Mountains to your right," she mumbled, remembering what Emessa had once taught her about getting lost in the forest. "Walk straight forward. Soon you will find where you want to go." Krystel turned until the mountain range was to the right of her, then began walking.
An hour later, she found Beaudale's entrance. Krystel walked in and quickly made her way to Aglaia's home. No doubt Aglaia was worried about her being gone so long. She had not made it very far into the city when Aglaia’s familiar voice rang out. "Krystel!" she ran up to her, hugging her tightly. "Krystel, are you okay? Did you hurt yourself at all?"
Krystel managed a small smile. "I am alright, considering…" she trailed off, then shook her head. "But really, I am just fine." She reached down for Aglaia’s hand, and pulled her in the direction of her cottage, wanting to get out of public eye. Aglaia complied happily, though they walked on in silence: Aglaia not knowing what to say, and Krystel not wanting to say anything. When they reached the cottage, Aglaia opened the door and walked in, pulling Krystel with her. Krystel closed it behind her.
As they passed through the cottage to Krystel’s room, Aglaia asked if she wanted something to eat. Krystel shook her head no. Aglaia paused, not wanting to hurt Krystel any more than necessary, but still get her point across. "Krys, I may not understand how you feel, but I do understand the crazy things you do when your emotions rage like this. I do not want you to accidentally hurt yourself."
Krystel rolled her eyes, continuing on to her bedroom. She knew Aglaia cared about her, but sometimes that was the problem. "’Glaia, you know that I am not going to get hurt. I am more careful than that." Her words were almost stopped in her throat as she remembered what had happened. For a moment she was surprised Aglaia had not noticed the bruises and asked what had happened. They passed the half–length mirror on the wall, not noticing the reflections. Krystel went and sat down on her bed while Aglaia stopped outside the door.
She pursed her lips slightly and put her hands on her hips. "Krystel, I have watched you do some of the most outrageous things—"
"Do not play innocent," Krystel interrupted, pointing a finger at her friend, "You have joined me in on some!"
"And one thing I have learned is that careful is one thing you are not," Aglaia finished. Before Krystel could open her mouth to object, Aglaia challenged: "Tell me where I am wrong." This had become a way between the girls to end serious arguments before they were started. Sometimes that was where it ended, and the subject would never be brought up again. This was not one of those cases. Krystel closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She turned slightly away from Aglaia. Minutes passed, and the two were silent. Aglaia studied Krystel, her head slightly tilted and her eyes narrow. Krystel was being a bit more evasive than usual, even with all that had happened.
Then Aglaia saw, around Krystel's neck, the beginnings of a hand–shaped bruise. "Krystel?" Aglaia started asking, concerned. "Did something happen while you were gone?" Krystel shook her head slowly, her eyes still closed, trying not to give anything away. She did not want Aglaia to worry about her more than she already was. Bringing up how she was almost killed was not going to help either of them. "Krystel," she tried again.
"Nothing happened," Krystel said firmly, finally turning to Aglaia. "So just drop it, alright?"
"Something did happen!" Aglaia's eyes went wide with worry and anger. "What did you do?" she asked as she finally entered the room and sat next to Krystel.
Krystel rolled her eyes, avoiding her friend's gaze. "Nothing!" she insisted.
"Liar! I can see the bruises forming around your neck. What did you do?"
"I did nothing!" she said again, though as she thought back to the event, she knew exactly what she had done. "Well, I do not think…"
"No, you do not," Aglaia said, annoyed. She sighed, and calmed down a bit. "So, if you did not do anything, then what happened?" She lowered the rest of her body onto the bed, listening intently.
Krystel gave a sigh of her own, giving into Aglaia and her annoyingly persistent caring. She rolled around to face her. "I—I am not quite sure." She paused, trying to figure out the best way to explain what had happened to Aglaia. She sat up, ready to tell the single worst story Aglaia would hear. "After you left, the Seer came and spoke with me for a few minutes, but she soon left as well. I was alone, and, well…"
Aglaia nodded and said, "Go on," trying to calmly get the information of her.
Krystel took a deep breath. "In the forest, next to his home, I saw something moving, and then I swear I heard him call my name. Several times, in fact."
Aglaia furrowed her eyebrows. "Are you sure your mind was not just playing a trick on you or something?"
"I thought that at first, but… I did go after it. It was like one of those dreams, where you are trying to catch someone, but you cannot. We ended up in a clearing with grass nearly as tall as I was and then—"
"Was it Airic?" Aglaia interrupted. For a moment, she forgot to be gentle; she was too wound up in the story.
Krystel looked down, and shook her head sadly. "No. No, it was not him."
They were quiet for a moment, then Aglaia asked timidly, "Was it someone from the city, playing a cruel joke on you?"
Again Krystel shook her head, but she did look up. "I do not know. It was this—this girl. She was dressed all in black—she said she started the fire that killed them because she needed me for something, and then she started choking me! She just wrapped her hand around my neck and lifted up into the air, and no matter what I did to fight back, she was just fine! And then this black cloud thing came out of her mouth and—" Krystel stopped herself. She was breathing heavily again, like she had when she woke up.
Aglaia pushed herself up slowly. "Krystel," she said carefully, "you should probably go speak with the Seer about this."
Krystel shook her head, calmer. "The Seer deals more with magick than something like this. It would be a waste of her time."
"But Krystel, what if—"
"Aglaia," Krystel interrupted firmly. "If you suggest that that girl was the Witch—"
"The Witch does not exist, Aglaia. You know that. It is just a story that parents tell to their children to make them behave."
They looked away from each other. This had been an argument they had had many times, though in Aglaia's mind this was the only serious time. "Krystel, please," she tried, "with everything that has gone on in the past three days, simply checking with the Seer will not hurt you, or anyone."
Krystel did not want to. While she was grateful to the Seer for her help earlier, she did not particularly like her. Krystel thought that she had always been part of the reason her parents abandoned her. She looked at Aglaia, trying to convey this to her without saying anything. After a few seconds of silence, she groaned. "Fine! I will go." Aglaia breathed a large sigh of relief. Krystel climbed off the bed. "But you are coming with me, and we are going now.
"Fair enough," Aglaia nodded. She stood up and stepped off the bed.
The girls walked out of the bedroom and made their way toward the door. Aglaia was a few steps ahead of Krystel, and stopped to check her reflection in a mirror in the front room. She smiled with approval as she fluffed her hair up. Krystel walked behind her, not looking into the mirror.
"Aglaia, it is just the Seer we are going to see. You do not need to look perfect."
Aglaia looked at where Krystel stood in the mirror. Her eyes went wide and her hands slowly fell. "Krystel," she said fearfully. She glanced over her shoulder, seeing Krystel's back, then quickly looked again at the mirror. "Krystel, turn around." She took a few steps back, grabbing onto Krystel. Krystel rolled her eyes, but complied.
Every sense in her body stopped. In the reflection was Aglaia, looking terrified. The person standing next to Aglaia was where Krystel's reflection should have been. Instead, it was the girl.
"You," Krystel spat out, shocked and angry.
"Hello again," she smiled. It was that cruel smile Krystel had seen on her. "Did you miss me?"
Aglaia grabbed onto Krystel's arm and stepped behind her. "Krystel," she said quietly, her voice shaking. "Is that her? Is she the one that—"
"Killed Krystel?" the girl interrupted. "Why, yes, that was me."
Krystel shook her head, confused. "But, I am still here."
"Thinking and moving, yes," the girl said. "But have you checked for a pulse yet?”
"No, why would I—" Krystel stopped short, her eyes going wide. Slowly she turned to Aglaia, then gently placed a hand around her neck, over the same spot where she was lifted, and the other slightly lower, on her chest. She didn't feel the steady heartbeat that should have been there. Her gaze shot back to the girl.
"I killed you, darling. You're dead. And that makes you mine."
"Krystel," Aglaia said, trying to pull her away, "Krystel, we need to go. Now." Aglaia stepped back more, not taking her grip off of Krystel.
Krystel held firm. "Who are you?" she demanded of the girl. "What do you want with me?"
"Who am I? Well, I'm offended! You two were just talking about me, denying my existence," she answered mockingly. "Of course, you've always done that, haven't you Krystel?"
Krystel shook her head, refusing to answer of believe what was happening. "What do you want with me?" she repeated firmer.
"I want freedom," she said. "And I'm getting it through you."
"Krystel, please!" Aglaia tugged on her arm again.
"You aren't going anywhere." The girl glared at Aglaia, then returned her attention to Krystel. "My name was once Mabella, a long time ago. And then I was killed, just like you were. People from then on knew me by a different name for many, many years."
"No," Krystel whispered to herself. "No, it could not possibly be…"
"Hmm. The Black Rose Witch, at your service." She laughed, a cold, long, evil sound.
Aglaia screamed, letting go of Krystel and moved back as far away from the mirror as possible. Krystel became angry. "No, you are not. You cannot be."
"True, I haven't been very active the past few decades. This body, Mabella's, was weak, and beginning to fail. It couldn't handle the amount of power as long as the rest could. So I went out in search of the one to take my place. Your lucky day, Krystel, was three days ago. You're next."
"No,” Krystel said firmly, “I am most certainly not."
"Leave her alone!" Aglaia screamed, tears of fear sliding down her cheeks, falling off her chin.
"Stay out of this!" the Witch snapped. She turned back to Krystel. "I'm afraid you don't have a choice in the matter. Do you remember that black cloud that came out of my mouth while you were busy dying?" Krystel did not answer. "That was me. That was the Black Soul. And when I killed you, when you inhaled that first time, you breathed me right inside of you. It's already been done. All that's left now is to get my mind inside of yours."
The Witch put her hand up against her side of the mirror. Out of her hand, through the mirror, came wispy black threads, waving and floating through the air. Krystel stepped back. "What are you doing?" Her answer was a cruel smirk. The threads slowly stretched towards Krystel's hand. She made a fist and put it behind her back, trying to keep it away from them.
"What are those?" Aglaia asked quietly through her tears. The Witch still did not answer. Krystel backed away more, but the more she did the faster they moved towards her. The Witch laughed again.
"Aglaia, go get the Seer, now!" Krystel instructed. Still sobbing, Aglaia managed to push herself away from the wall and ran to the door. She pulled on it a few times, but it would not budge.
"It will not open! It is stuck!" she yelled as she pulled.
"What?" Krystel looked away from the threads to her friend trying to pry the door open for just a moment. That was all they needed. Aglaia looked over at Krystel and called out, but not soon enough.
"Krystel! Your hand!"
One thread wrapped around her wrist tightly, the same place the Witch had held her earlier. The bruises stung from the hold. It wrenched her towards the mirror. The rest just barely touched her fingers and palm, but had an unbreakable hold. The one around her wrist pulled once more, along with the others, and Krystel stumbled forward. She caught herself with her free hand on the wall, off to the side of the mirror. Her captured hand landed on the mirror and matched up perfectly with the Witch's. She grabbed her arm, being careful not to touch the thread there, and tried to pull herself free. Like Aglaia and the door, it would not budge.
"Next time, I suggest protecting both hands," the Witch said smugly as she put her other hand up. More threads came flowing out, much faster than the first ones.
"Krystel, what do we do?" Aglaia was somehow sobbing harder.
Krystel continued to pull. "Back door, window, find something, Aglaia, and get out of here!"
"But what about you?"
"Oh, it's too late for her," the Witch put in, "though it is noble of you to not want to leave your friend behind. However, if you truly were a good friend, you'd stop distracting her."
"Aglaia, get out!" Aglaia leaned against the wall and slid down, defeated, consumed in sobs.
"Well, you certainly know how to pick friends, don't you," the Witch said absently. Krystel ignored her; she put all her strength and concentration on getting her hand off the mirror. It was getting harder. With each pull, her arm would move less, and her strength would lessen.
"Do you know why it's hard for you to struggle?" Krystel still did not answer, and continued to pull. After a moment, the Witch continued. "Fine, I'll tell you. The more you pull, the harder it gets. This is because my little threads didn't just connect to you, they went inside you and are now moving up the rest of your arm, across your shoulders, and down your free arm, and then they'll—" She was interrupted by the threads bursting from Krystel's free hand and attaching themselves to the new ones. They pulled together, attaching Krystel's hands to the mirror with the Witch's. "Do that."
The next moment was a blur for Krystel. She went from looking in the Witch's eyes in the mirror in Aglaia's home to looking into oblivion in a black void, as if the night had swallowed her. She closed her eyes and felt a shock in her chest. Then it was over. She opened her eyes.
Krystel looked in the mirror. It was her face, her body, but different. Now she was as pale as the clouds, with long, long hair blacker than night. She looked down and was wearing the same thing the Witch—Mabella—was. She looked back in the mirror. Her eyes were the same color, the same crystal blue that had given her her name, but now she could see the depth in them, the secrets. She could see the anger, the passion, the hatred, the pain fiery behind them, white hot. She could also feel the emotions, burning within her. There was no trace of happiness nor sadness. There was just fire.
Krystel turned to see Aglaia curled up in a ball against the door. She wiped away the tears and started to stand up. "Krystel, are you okay? What happened to you?"
Krystel knew Aglaia. They were friends. Aglaia was the first one in Beaudale to truly care about her. But she didn't know how Krystel felt, what Krystel had experienced. She had always been the happier and better off of the two, and their friendship was something Aglaia had to settle for.
"Krys, come on." Aglaia took a few slow steps towards the girl. "Tell me you are okay."
Krystel looked back to her new reflection. She smiled. It was the same wicked smile she had seen on Mabella. She turned to Aglaia. "I'm perfectly fine, Aglaia." She stepped towards her friend. "In fact, I feel so incredibly good right now that I think I'm going to go out tonight. Have a little fun, you know?"
"Well," Aglaia started carefully, not wanting to say the wrong thing. "That is good, that you feel better. Although a lot has happened lately, today alone. Do you think, maybe, you should just like to stay inside? Get some sleep instead?"
Krystel tilted her head, as if she was confused. "Why, Glaia? Why would I want to stay inside on such a beautiful night?"
"Well, I just mean—"
"Is it, perhaps," Krystel interrupted, "that you just want to rub your oh–so–happy and perfect life in my face again?"
"What? Krystel, that is—"
"Ridiculous? I don't think so, dearie." Krystel took a few steps, closing the gap between them. "See, you've always had the better life, Aglaia. Family that wants you, city that accepts you, lover who loves you and, oh yes, isn't dead."
Aglaia stepped backwards, trying to create some distance between her and Krystel. "Krystel, why are you talking like that? You are scaring me."
Krystel started to smile. She took slow, measured steps. With every step she took forward, Aglaia took on back until her back hit the wall. "Oh I hope I am, because I'm tired of living in the shadow of your perfection, Aglaia."
"What are you talking about? You do not live in my shadow, you never have! You do not live in anyone's shadow!"
Krystel stayed silent for a moment, then took one step back. Aglaia relaxed just a little, glad to have a little space, though it was very obvious she was still terrified. Krystel held her hand out to Aglaia. "Not anymore, I don't," she said. She smiled. With a flick of her wrist, she brought her arm up. Aglaia exploded into flames. She screamed for all of a second, and then was gone. Nothing was left but a smoking pile of ashes on the floor.
Krystel started breathing deeply, amazed at the power of the magick that had just ran through her. She looked at herself in the mirror again. The smile was still there, the evil still shining through it. "Come along," she said to herself. "It's time to paint this town in flames. And make them all regret ever hating me."
* * *
It hadn't taken very long for word to get out. First people heard that there was a fire around Aglaia's home. Then more cottages were going up in flames as well. The next was people who were rushing to help spontaneously combusting. Soon Beaudale was in complete uproar.
Krystel watched it all from various points high up in the trees. She decided to make her grand appearance as the people had given up on trying to stop the fire. She disappeared in a tangle of black threads from the tree and materialized at the main gate into Beaudale. Most people were too occupied running to and fro gathering what belongings and family members they still could to notice her. Some only glanced her direction, then continued rushing on their way.
Krystel walked slowly down the streets, watching the chaos. Occasionally as someone would rush past her, she would fling her arm out and burn them the way she had Aglaia. It wasn't until the first person, a little girl, had made it outside the city that Krystel set fire to the walls and the docks. No one is making it out of here, she thought. No one.
The fire spread inwards. Soon those still alive realized they were going to die. Krystel smiled. She had done it. Revenge on all those who had ever disliked her, thought poorly of her, and treated her unfairly. She stopped in the center of Beaudale. There was a plaza, surrounded by markets, and in the middle was a glorious white fountain. Water was still being sprayed out of it. Krystel raised her hand, palm facing the fountain. A spray of fire burst out, igniting the water. The white fountain turned black as it now sprayed fire.
She took a few steps back and faced both hands to the ground in front of her. More fire came out, this time scorching the ground in front of the fountain. She let it continue for a minute before stopping. On the ground was the Witch's mark: an animated black rose, blood dripping down the stem and the petals on fire.
She disappeared again, reappearing in her tree. She looked down on the burning city one last time, and smiled wickedly. "Goodbye, Beaudale," she said, "and good riddance."
* * *
After Beaudale was nothing but a charred piece of ground, she went off to the mountains close to the city. She cleared away a section of land, and very carefully began to create her new castle. The process was long and tiresome, but Krystel had new power rushing through her veins that kept her supplied. She smiled like an excited child getting what they want as she watched her castle come to life before her.
It was a dark emerald green on the outside. It had tall towers, and a grand entry way, leading into the foyer. There was a black marble staircase leading to the second floor. All the rooms were large, and there were long corridors every which way. There was a ballroom on the west side, and the dining room and kitchen in the east. And around every column and balcony, no matter how thick or thin, there were vines of black roses tangled all around. Some were real, and some were made of iron. There was a dungeon below, deep within the mountain.
Once it was finished, Krystel was exhausted from the night's work. Getting killed, cursed, burning down an entire city, and building a castle all in the same few hours was tiring. She went up to her new room and happily collapsed on the bed, ready for some much deserved sleep.