I stood in the middle of the field, my arms tucked around myself to ward off the chill in the air. I couldn't tell if it was actually cold, or if it was the possibility of this being my last day alive that was causing the chill. Hidden around me strategically we're all of my kingdom's usable warriors, but right now, I was alone. Bait.
I had been waiting for nearly an hour for Lorelei and at this point, I wondered if she would ever show to face me. I had hoped that she would show alone, to let it be a battle between mother and daughter and not need to potentially risk anyone else's lives.
I was wrong.
A cackle rang out through the field around me, sending my anxiety to all new highs. Behind me, Paeris emerged from his hiding place. The ever dutiful body guard.
Another cackle rang through the space around us, though closer. I heard a scream from my left pierce the air to my right.
The war had begun.
I whirled to search for Paeris, but couldn't see him behind me as Elves came out of hiding to face others in hand to hand combat, flames crawling over skin and rocks flying through the air. I ran toward Jonas as my eyes connected with him, still searching for Paeris frantically.
"Where did he go? Where is Paeris?" I screamed, my eyes scanning the field.
"She took him!" He yelled back, dodging a tendril of dark ooze as it whizzed past him.
My heart fell at his words as red fogged my vision. The ground shook below me as dark clouds took over the sky above me. Everyone stopped their attacks to try and steady themselves on the moving ground.
Someone ran toward me, a black vine crawling over their torso as they came. I growled, skin rippling as I shifted, jaws gnashing and ripping and acid tasting flesh. As I took a blow to the forehead, stars danced in my vision. I felt the sickening crunch of bones as I yanked my attacker to the ground. Fire surrounded me as I ran into the crowd, claws ripping at anyone who smelled of rot.
As I looked around at my friends and family members, my rage grew at the sights of fallen warriors around me.
My eyes connected with Keya, a vacant look on her sweet face. I knew she was dead, darkness tainting her precious body, but I couldn't believe it in that moment. I wanted to crumble to the ground and hold her, to bring back my dear friend and mentor. I wanted to scream at the sky at the injustice of losing her to this fight.
"Go! Find Paeris! If you find him, you will find her!" Jonas yelled, pushing me forward as he ran past me toward another Darkling to fight.
I would find her. And she would pay.
As I heard the screams of agony and the crashes of war being me and entered into the silence of the forest, I regretted coming to the woods alone. I should have brought someone with me - Merith would have been the best choice, but I knew with Faelyn on the field, he wouldn't be much help to me while she was there. I heard a soft crash somewhere in the woods behind me. Footsteps, maybe. Or maybe it was Paeris.
Another crash ringing through the forest, closer to me, made a shiver run down my spine. I ran then, but the haziness of being hit in the head earlier made it harder to be proficient in telling where I was going. I tripped, catching my ankle on a branch and shouting out in pain despite myself as it sliced deep into my skin. Of all the years of training, never once would I have believed that I would accidentally cut open my flesh to expose the smell of my own blood to the enemy - but especially not to fall over like a klutz and scream into a forest where someone was chasing me. It was true that training and war were much different in real life.
I turned, attempting to gauge where I was in the forest, and how I could get back to the field and at least bring back up. However, the fear that Paeris could already be hurt made my heart hurt. I turned my face just in time to see a ghastly figure run past me, a soft cackle in the distance that I probably would have missed if my adrenaline wasn't so high.
Lorelei was there then, hovering over me, smiling at me with a new kind of evil smile. All I could smell was death, gagging me, as a scream bubbled past my lips. I twisted and ignored the throbbing in my ankle as I scrambled over leaves and twigs, clawing to myself to my feet to get away from her. My legs couldn't move as quickly as they had before with the pain radiating up and into my calf and knee. I vaguely wondered if I had broken it, but I didn't bother to look down to assess the damage.
I ran, knowing that if Lorelei caught up to me, not only would I never find Paeris, but I would never live to see another day. Or maybe she would kidnap me and force me to do unspeakable things. I vowed then that if that monster caught me, I would end my own life.
I could feel the panic settling over my mind as I ran, fighting off the urge to cry out for help and give up my location to the woman who was hunting me. I ran until I noticed a familiarity in the way the trees bent and the plants around me. Until the path I was running reminded me all too well of the nightmares that had plagued me in the night since I was a child.
I shifted my eyes across the thick forest in front of me, trying to catch another glimpse of Lorelei, but I couldn't see her anywhere. I could smell something nearby, but it didn't smell like the horrible stench that seemed to follow her everywhere. Instead, it smelled vaguely like vanilla and sandalwood. I tried to think back to where I had smelled it before.
I followed the scent to an oddly dense area of the forest. The smell was overpowering now, filling my nostrils with sweat and fear. I slowed to a stop at the edge of the area, exhaustion slowly creeping over me as I took in the scene of two figures knelt between two trees, tied and dirty and oozing panic from their core.
Something was different about this scene than my dreams had always been. A wave of nausea overtook me as I realized the difference between my dream and the reality in front of me.
Instead of a blonde female and a dark complected male tied up like my dream, it was Paeris and Cage. It hit me then, the female in my dream had been Allie.
My mother had been watching me, changing her plan and calculating from the moment I met my sister.
She wanted me to choose who I loved more, knowing it was impossible. Knowing that, in order to save them both, I would have to go with her. If I killed either to end her plan, I would have to either live without one or the other, or would turn dark trying to bring one back to life.
This is how she would finally win.