Without the bitter, the sweet isn't as sweet.
Someone was stroking my hair with soft, gentle
It was soothing and calming and I smiled softly at the sensation.
I could feel sunlight warming my face, and I turned my head towards the light.
My eyelids felt sticky and for a moment, I didn't want to open my eyes.
I didn't want to face reality and see the outcomes of that horrible night.
I could still remember Raith's limp, tangled body lying by the eerie pool of water; broken and motionless.
What would happen to us now?
"Tegan?" Someone whispered close to my ear.
The sound sent shivers through my body.
My eyes snapped open and I was suddenly staring into his handsome face, bare inches away from my own.
He was perfect.
There wasn't a scratch on him and as the sunlight shone down on his flawless skin, he almost looked like he was glowing.
"Raith!" I cried, a huge smile on my face.
I pounced, springing up and tackling him in a hug that sent him tumbling backwards onto the ground.
I ended up on top of him while he lay on his back, grinning madly.
"I was so worried." He said as I got lost in his sparkling green eyes.
"You were worried? What about me? I thought you had died!" I exclaimed.
"Oh please, you think Lucas could take me down?" Raith scoffed.
I started giggling at his confidence and he started laughing too. Then I couldn't stop laughing and had a full on laughing fit.
"You're getting a bit hysterical." He said once I started crying with laughter.
"Shut up!" I snapped, putting a finger over his lips.
The sudden contact made the air sizzle with static and goosebumps ran up and down my arms.
I retracted my hand quickly, feeling my face flush.
Raith raised a hand and knotted it through my hair.
"Thank you for saving my life." He said with a small smile.
"No, thank you…for everything." I whispered, leaning down so that my face hovered a few centimetres above his.
His smile widened even more and I couldn't hold back any longer.
I leaned down even closer and just as our lips were about to touch, I heard a squeal and I was knocked sideways by a leaping moron.
"Tegan you're alive!" Jess yelled in my ear, hugging me so tightly I thought I felt my ribs crack.
"What are you doing here?" I cried, relieved that she was alive and full of energy, but disappointed that I had missed my chance with Raith.
Behind her, I saw Raith sit up and give me a secretive smile, which made me blush bright red.
"She demanded to see you when she woke up, so I brought her back here." I heard Smile say from somewhere to my left.
I looked over Jess' shoulder and saw Smile standing a few metres away with a peaceful expression on his face.
"Are you okay?" I asked Jess as I gently pulled out of her bone crushing hug.
Jess nodded, beaming at me with the biggest smile I had ever seen.
"Requiem didn't do anything to you right?" I asked, holding her out at arms length so I could examine any recent signs of injury.
"Tegan, I'm perfectly fine. Even my clothes are spotless and clean! Stop it!" She cried as I lifted up each arm and inspected her for signs of damage.
She was right. There wasn't a single smudge of dirt on her tight T-shirt and pink denim shorts. Even her hair was bouncy and pefect.
"Requiem must have appeared though." Raith said, focussing his attention on Smile.
"He said he will come for you soon." he said cryptically.
Raith nodded and I felt my stomach sink a little.
What did that mean? What was going to happen to Raith?
"What happened to Lucas?" Jess asked me, interrupting my thoughts.
I frowned, tryng to remember the events of last night. All I could recall was Lucas' pale face hanging in front of me, the blood pouring from his mouth.
"Did he die?" I asked Raith.
The boy shook his head.
"When I woke up after the tree fell on you two, Lucas was impaled on one of the branches but still alive. I took him to Requiem but I returned to look after you."
I couldn't help but smile at how sweet that sounded.
Jess on the other hand was freaking out.
"A tree fell on top of you and Lucas?" She yelled, shaking me back and forth. "What the hell Tegan! Why were you there? When I woke up in the cathedral, Smile told me you had gone after Raith but I didn't believe it! What were you thinking you idiot?"
"Calm down! I'm alright now aren't I?" I said, trying to make her stop waving me around like a doll.
Jess pouted and I sighed tiredly.
"I'm just glad I was able to pull Lucas back before he could get away. I'm surprised he didn't just disappear into thin air to get out of there." I said, talking more to Raith than my sister.
"Even though he didn't look it, Lucas was also injured quite badly. I don't think he had the energy to teleport." He said.
"That was still a crazy thing to do." Jess mumbled.
I patted her lightly on the back.
"It's okay now sis." I said. "Everything turned out fine."
I looked around at the bright clearing, radiating with positivity. The nightmare was over. We were all free, at last.
I could barely believe what had happened. It all seemed so surreal. Was I really in that house? Did Jess and I really fend off all those murderous dogs?
Even the clearing we were all sitting in didn't look the same as it had last night.
The sunlight transformed the place into a vibrant haven. The water in the pool was crystal clear and the forest was alive with the sound of life. Even though there were still remnants of smashed boulders and cracks in the ground, it all felt so serene and still.
I stretched my arms and slowly got my feet, trying to stifle a yawn.
Once I was standing, however, something felt different. There was a weird sensation of soft material swishing around my knees.
I looked down and blanched.
"What the flip?" I exclaimed.
I was wearing a white floral sun dress. It hugged my figure and flared out at my waist with a pleated skirt ending a little above my knees.
I certainly wasn't wearing this last night.
"Raith, did you dress me up?" I yelled, glaring at the boy who was still sitting in the leaves in front of me.
"Your old clothes were all dirty." He defended with an innocent look.
"I'm not a doll you can dress up whenever you feel like it!" I bellowed.
My voice echoed throughout the forest and Jess threw her hands over her ears.
"Why are you always so aggressive?" Raith yelled back. "You should be flattered that I actually care what you look like!"
My face heated up and I didn't know if it was from anger or embarrassment, or both.
"Flattered?" I cried. "Why should I care that you care what I look like?"
Raith stood up quickly and before I knew it, we were screaming at each other.
"You're unbelievable!" He shouted.
"I'm unbelievable? You're a pervert!"
"You're a moronic douchebag. Go eat shit!"
"No, you eat shit you spoilt little brat!"
"You eat shit!"
"You eat shit!"
"You eat shit!"
"Will you two just shut up? No one's eating shit!" Jess screamed at the both of us.
Raith and I were silent, both of us glaring at each other.
I wasn't really that angry, and neither was he. The dress was actually quite pretty. It just felt good to let off a little steam. It felt like things were finally getting back to normal.
I stomped over to him and punched him in the arm.
"Feel better now?" he asked, wincing in pain.
"Yes. Much better." I said with satisfaction.
Then I smiled, and he smiled, and it kind of got awkward because we were both just standing there smiling at each other and I didn't know what to say but I couldn't keep my eyes off him.
"Get a room you two." Jess teased with a sly grin.
"Shut up Jess." I grumbled, going red and looking away from Raith awkwardly.
I did want to talk to him though, away from the peering eyes of my sister and the vague gaze of Smile. I didn't know what I wanted to say, but it would be nice to walk with Raith through the warm forest. It had been so long since I had felt this sort of peace and I wasn't going to give it up any time soon. Everything seemed so simple now and I felt light, like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
That was until I felt it.
One moment, I was brimming with optimism and the next, a cold, icy sensation started to seep into my skin.
A chill had returned to the air.
The scattered autumn leaves lying on the ground around us began to swirl and twist as the frosty wind blew through the clearing. Beside us, the water in the lake started to churn; minute waves sloshing over the edges of the craggy boulders and reeds on the outskirts of the pool.
The sunlight no longer seemed as warm or golden, but glaring and white. The trees and leaves lost their vibrant colours and everything took on a grey tinge.
I started to shake.
Raith moved next to me so we were standing side by side.
I saw the fear in his eyes. It mirrored my own.
Uncertainly, I held onto his hand and he glanced at me. I offered him a small smile which he slowly returned, but I could still tell that like me, he was gripped with dread
"What's happening?" Jess exclained, shivering and wrapping her arms around herself. "I feel so cold."
I bit my lip and looked around the clearing, staring as tendrils of black smoke started to roll in from the cracks in the ground around us.
"Always one for dramatics." I heard Smile say dryly.
The smoke began to become more oncentrated and I swallowed nervously.
Then there was a flash of white and suddenly Morgue appeared.
"Incoming." She called with a sickly sweet smile.
A moment later he was here, materialising next to the girl in the blink of an eye.
It was Requiem.
I cringed, feeling his dark presence seep into the atmosphere like thick smog.
He was taller than all of us, at least seven feet tall, and clad in a pitch black cloak that seemed to be made of twisting, curling smoke. He watched us, his face hidden in the depths of his heavy hood as his eyes glowed narrow and red.
Sometimes I thought he was an illusion, for this cloak didn't look like solid material at all. He looked like a ghost, parts of him whisping away by the wind, but I could feel his stare drilling into me, and his cold presence reached out and spread around all of us.
We all stood, rooted to the spot as we waited for the inevitable.
And then he spoke; only it wasn't the voice of a man like I was expecting.
Instead I heard the voice of a girl ring out across the clearing.
"Raith, it's time for you to go."
I wouldn't have been surprised if time itself stopped at that very moment. Against the almost blinding light of the sun, a figure stepped out from behind the dark cloaked man.
I raised a hand to my forehead to shield my eyes from the light as the black silhouette slowly took shape in front of me.
I recognized the girl.
She was wearing black, high heeled boots and low waisted black skinny jeans that were so tight they sculpted her perfectly skinny legs. Her simple singlet was also black and figure hugging, and her long, wavy hair that fell in dark loose curls around her pale white shoulders, all the way down to her waist. Her alabaster skin contrasted with her deep red lips and deep hazel eyes. Those eyes were piercing and strange. I felt shocks run through my body when I stared into the mesmerising brown depths.
I knew who she was even before Raith whispered her name.
His grip on my hand tightened and I squeezed back, unable to tear my eyes away from the spectre.
I thought she was dead. I thought that was what had brought about this whole cursed situation.
And yet, I couldn't deny that this girl standing in front of me was definitely the girl from the photographs. The only difference was that she was ten times, no, at least twenty times more beautiful. The photographs didn't capture the shine of her hair or the way her eyes conveyed such intense emotions with each blink. Even the memory of her on the beach seemed grainy and washed out, like I had been watching the whole thing in sepia.
Scara moved towards us in one fluid motion, every step seeming to be part of some graceful dance to a melody only she could hear.
She scared me. She scared me more than anyone I had ever met in my whole entire life. Just looking at her made me feel guilty, like my human eyes weren't worthy of seeing such an otherworldly being.
She stopped when she was two metres away from us, her black hair floating around her face as a cool breeze blew through the trees, bringing with it the scent of roses and autumn.
"You're not real." I heard Raith say from next to me.
I ventured a glance to my left and felt my heart lurch at the expression on Raith's face. There was a deep sorrow etched across his features. His eyes were dark pools of sadness that reflected nothing but pain and despair.
"Raith…" Scara held out a slender hand towards him and he squeezed my hand so hard his fingers dug into my skin. I grimaced and had to clench my jaw to stop the painful whimper escaping from my lips.
Scara smiled sadly. "Yes, I died in this place. But there is a place beyond this one; an amazing place like you'd never believe. They were right. There is something more than this, and you must come with me for now. You have much to learn as a Death Lord. You cannot stay here in Purgatory."
Raith started to tremble and the small shivers made me start to shake too.
"What do you mean Death Lord?" I asked, my voice seeming weak and feeble compared to hers.
Scara glanced at me and I felt like I was melting under her dark eyes.
"There has been and will always be three Death Lords. Raith must take Tomb's place. That is what was decided." She said. Her words her powerful, and each syllable seemed to reverberate through my entire body.
I felt my mouth go dry.
Does this mean Raith is leaving?
"But if you're still alive then Tomb must be alive too right?" I said quickly, desperately clawing at any excuse to keep Raith here, with me.
Scara shook her head, her eyes strangely sad.
"Tomb is gone. The power Raith unleashed upon him destroyed his very being. He is no longer here nor there. He exists no longer. When you killed Tomb, you sealed your fate Raith. You must take on his role." Scara whispered, her eyes moving back to the boy beside me.
Raith shook his head, tightening his jaw and looking away.
"I don't want to. I didn't want any of this. I just wanted you." He said stiffly.
"I know and I'm so very sorry for everything that has happened."
Scara had a sad smile on her face and her eyes reflected the pain I saw in Raith's. I suddenly felt like an intruder; like I didn't belong here, listening to them talk.
"When I chose to accept my punishment, I didn't know that this was what would happen." Raith said softly.
"But this is the way things are and you must come with me for now." Scara whispered. "The place where we're going is a beautiful place. It truly is beautiful."
She had tears in her eyes as she looked at him, and her face was a mask of tragic beauty and angelic acceptance.
Ever so slowly, I felt Raith's hand loosen around mine.
I watched him walk over to her, my heart twisting painfully at each step he took.
Then he pulled her to him and held her tightly in a close embrace.
The pain I felt was strange.
It wasn't the realisation that I had lost Raith to Scara.
He had never truly been mine to begin with.
The sunlight felt nice and warm on my face, and the leaves felt soft beneath my back.
I could hear Jess in the distance, talking to Smile about something. It didn't surprise me that she was making friends with the little boy. She's always loved children and she might as well occupy herself with something while they prepared to send us back home.
Raith and Scara had disappeared off somewhere. I guess they just needed some time alone to catch up on everything that had happened. Either that or they've already gone to that place beyond Purgatory. It's not as if Raith liked saying goodbye to me anyway.
Besides, I was fine here, lying underneath the canopy of the redwood trees, feeling strange.
I knew that when I returned home, all this was going to be like some long dream. Life would return back to normal and I wouldn't have to worry about killer angels and demons or even nightmares that don't end.
As time passes, my memory of this whole thing would fade and eventually, I might even question whether this supernatural adventure even happened.
So why did I feel like I was losing something so important?
The sound of leaves crunching nearby made me sit up and listen to the steady footsteps approaching my secluded little spot in the forest.
Then I saw him.
He looked like an angel in the streaming sunlight, walking amidst the beautiful orange and yellow leaves and the large red trees.
It was funny that I still thought of him as that annoying, psychotic boy who liked sweets and stalked me everywhere I went. The only problem was some point along the line, he had become so much more than that but I didn't know how to tell him.
I slowly got to my feet, although my lack of balance and coordination meant that I stumbled several times and looked like a total douche.
"I thought you might have already left." I said once I regained my balance.
Raith kept walking until he was less than a metre away from me, and we stood face to face.
He had his hands in the pockets of his trademark dark jeans and a somewhat sad look on his face.
"Not yet. I wanted to say goodbye to you first." He said seriously, his green eyes holding my own.
"That's a first." I said almost bitterly.
"Bullshit. I'm a first class gentleman." Raith grinned and my heart felt like it was being squeezed tightly.
"Are you really going to go with her?" I asked, looking over Raith's shoulder. I wasn't sure where Scara was but I sure hoped she wasn't listening to our conversation.
Raith shrugged, looking a little downcast.
"I guess I have to. I can't keep running forever. You taught me that. You faced your fears and now I need to face mine. Besides, once I master my new role, I can come back to Purgatory and maybe even visit the world of the living once in a while." Raith offered me a crooked smile but I couldn't bring myself to smile back.
I didn't want to do this. I didn't want to pretend everything was okay when it wasn't. I was not fine leaving things the way they are.
Was he really just accepting the consequences of what he'd done? Or did he choose her over me?
"Raith-" I started but my breath left my lungs when he suddenly took a step forward and cupped my face in both his hands.
"I'm so sorry Tegan. I'm sorry for everything. You were at the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught up in this mess. It's all my fault."
I couldn't breathe.
He was so close that I could count each individual eyelash on his eyelids.
His hands were so warm on my face; so warm and strong.
"I don't want you to leave." I whispered, my voice so soft that I thought the wind might pick up and blow my words away.
I was being selfish. I had no right to stop Raith from accepting the title. I had no say in the world of the dead and yet I had to tell him.
Raith shook his head sadly and I saw something akin to regret in those large green orbs.
"I know Tegan but I have to. Sometimes we have to do things that we don't want to. Sometimes we have to hurt the people we care about the most. Because life is cruel. Because if we don't do these things, other people will suffer."
I nodded and took a deep breath. He was right. Why was he always right?
"I will never forget you." I promised. "Forever and ever I will never forget you."
Raith laughed softly.
"Neither will I." he said, and his smile was so bright that I thought I would burst into tears right there and then.
We stood like that a moment longer, but eventually he spoke.
"It's time for you to go home Tegan."
I wanted to run away. I want to tell him that I wanted to stay here for all of eternity, standing with him in this forest of sunshine and autumn. A human life was pale in comparison to this place of wonder. No one could compare to him.
I felt the wind change, the flow of air feeling strange like there was a current of electricity running through it.
"What-" I started to ask but I stopped when Raith leaned down towards me, his face so close that I could almost feel the heat coming off his flawless skin.
"Goodbye Tegan." He whispered softly.
Then he closed his eyes and kissed me.
My body reacted before I could think.
My eyes slid shut, my knees buckled and as I felt his lips meet mine, everything melted away and there was nothing but me and Raith and the pounding of my heart and the way his lips felt in the tender touch that I would remember forever.
As tears ran down my face, only two words ran through my head.
There was a harsh beeping noise.
I woke up with a gasp, my heart beating so fast I felt as if I had run a marathon.
Where am I?
I scanned the room in a panic, terrified by the lack of orange and red and faced instead with glaring white walls.
The beeping noise continued and I looked to my left, startled by the heart monitor beside my bed.
Heart monitor? Bed? Wasn't I standing just now?
I looked down at myself and froze. Gone was the beautiful summer dress, replaced by a drab white hospital gown. I tried to sit up properly by my left arm and leg were restricted by heavy plaster casts.
So I'm in a hospital? But…But I was…
"Tegan? You're awake?"
I was speechless as Jess suddenly seemed to appear out of nowhere. She launched herself at me, pulling me into a clumsy, one armed hug despite her flimsy hospital dressing gown and the huge cast around her right arm.
"They said Cory died during the accident. I'm so glad you're okay." she whimpered.
I sat frozen, aware that my mother and my father, who I hadn't seen all year, were also in my hospital room yelling for doctors to come quickly.
Even Gina and Lizzy were there, watching teary eyed, all fights forgotten.
I'm in hospital because I was in a car accident. Cory died in the crash.
It all came back to me; the events that lead up to my journey into Purgatory. But that was only a fraction of what had really happened, only the tip of the iceburg of everything I had been through.
I hugged Jess tightly, wishing that she was that other person; the one person I needed the most right now but who I would never see again.
I buried my head in her hair and let loose the tears that I had been holding back.
She started talking about the strange dream she had about me, Raith and Lucas but I wasn't listening.
I was lost in a world of my own; a world of sunshine, autumn and a dark haired boy with eyes as green as the deepest forest.
I was lost in a world that I would never see again; not until the day I died.