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Has no one told you she's not breathing?

The following day the sun never shone. Instead the sky was painted in a thick, dark color. The birds were silent; if it hadn’t been for the rustling of the wind, the world would have been completely quiet. They traveled through the forest, in the dying colors of the late summer, when Annabelle felt it.

“Alice”, she said, and her voice was dark and serious, “can you feel it?” Alice looked at her, confused, and then shook her head.

“What is it?” Annabelle clenched her jaws, and suddenly she understood it all.

“They are coming,” she whispered, “just like Simone warned, just like you said... The darkness is coming.” Thank you, Simone, she thought to herself, as she pulled in the horse. Alice still looked confused, when she got down from her seat. Annabelle was terrified, but at the same time ready to get it over with.

“What do we do? Annabelle?” Annabelle got down from the wagon, too, but remained silent. She preferred not to answer the girl’s questions, and instead she raised her eyebrows.

“Weapons, Alice. Do you have one?” Alice looked for a second like Annabelle had slapped her right across her cheek. “That’s what I thought,” Annabelle mumbled, and walked over to the carriage where she opened her bag.

Before they had left Mrs. Ericsson’s cabin, she had equipped herself with various things, such as weapons that had belonged to the soldiers they had taken care of - weapons of soldiers that now lay buried in the vast meadow behind the house. She gave Alice a sword, for she didn’t know if the girl could handle a rifle.

“Take this. You're going to need it.” Alice frowned her eyebrows suspiciously, and was just about to open her mouth to argue. Annabelle was faster. “I know you, Alice. I know about your past. I know you can handle something as simple as a sword.” Without another word Alice took the weapon, which seemed to fit perfectly in her hands as her fingers closed around the hilt. Annabelle herself went back to the wagon, now to choose her own weapon.

One of them, a sword, had had a hilt so beautifully decorated that Annabelle had felt compelled to take it with her, and now, when she saw it, it was more beautiful than ever. At first she wondered if she should arm herself with it, but then she decided to take a rifle instead, the same rifle she had been armed with during the war.

A strange calm spread within her when she held the weapon in her hands. Memories came flooding back, and for a short moment she almost thought she was back in the war. Cannons exploded around her; she could taste the thick gunsmoke, hear the screams of dying soldiers. She had never really left the war, after all, even though the soldiers screaming at her were nothing but ghosts of her past, and the bullets grazing her tainted uniform were nothing but bitter imaginations.

“Annabelle,” Alice interrupted her thoughts, snatching her back into reality, “what exactly is going on?” Annabelle raised a finger to her mouth and shushed weakly at her.

“Just wait,” she said quietly, hoping that the girl would understand. Annabelle then took a deep breath, only to scream right out the next second. All she got back was the same, pale silence as before. It was as if the forest was dead.

“I know you’re here,” she said then, quiet and steady; her voice didn’t tremble for even a second. “Come on out and end this.” Her voice vibrated with power and suddenly she realized that she couldn’t be more ready. She turned to Alice. “When all of this is over, Alice, we’ll go home. I promise.” Alice nodded weakly and then turned her gaze forward, focused. Her hands were clutched around the handle of the sword, her knuckles white with power.

Suddenly the wind died out, faded away, and everything was still. Annabelle suddenly understood, for real, what was happening and her eyes got frozen in panic. She realized what she really had gotten herself into, and that she would never ever be ready. They could never make it; they were two and they were a hundred. She was going to die.

Please, she whispered quietly to herself, but just as she was about to pray she stopped herself. He wouldn’t listen anyway. Her thoughts were interrupted by a vague rustling, and Annabelle took a deep breath.

They were here.

They didn’t wear black. They wore gray, all of them; they wore gray uniforms, like the one who once had been worn by Annabelle. The only difference was that their uniforms were light, while Annabelle’s had been dark. They almost blinded her.

Suddenly she noticed that they were nothing but shadows, dark souls inside the rotting bodies of the soldiers who had fought alongside Annabelle, the bodies she herself had seen fall dead to the ground. It wasn’t them anymore, she knew that, but the memories still hurt.

For a second Annabelle closed her eyes, and for a second she was home. Katherine’s soft laughter and Killian’s quiet words made her smile, before she again woke up to the dark reality, with Killian’s voice still echoing in her. Then she heard Alice’s voice; calm, steady.

“I’m the one you want.” Annabelle could hear the sad tone in her voice, almost completely hidden behind the girl’s courage and determination. “Leave her alone, let her be. It’s me you want. Just- just take me and let it all end here.” The words echoed through the forest and suddenly Annabelle realized how easy it would be to let them take Alice. It had been her plan from the beginning; to get rid of Alice, no matter the cost. She could do it; she could win. She could go home.

But it had been so long ago, and since then everything had changed. She had told Alice that, too, earlier, when they had sat under the old oak tree at Mrs. Ericsson’s. She wasn’t the same little girl anymore; the war with its pitch-black violence and sudden losses had forced her to grow up. She saw them go towards Alice, but it was when the girl’s sword fell to the ground that Annabelle began to speak.

“Let her go. You came here for me, but I won’t give up without a fight.” She ended her sentence screaming, and it only took seconds before she had fired her first bullet.

They were everywhere; behind her, in front of her. Hundreds of dark gray shades hovered before her eyes, yet she continued to shoot. She shot them; shadows of men who were already dead. They fell, many of them, though more remained standing. How do you kill a shadow, she thought to herself in the midst of her panic, how do you kill something that’s already dead?

She saw Jack Milton and had to close her eyes, as she fired a shot straight into her lost friend’s heart. Annabelle then looked to the side, toward Alice, but couldn’t see her. Had she fallen? Was she gone? Annabelle felt anger rather than anxiety, and she recharged her rifle quickly.

“Alice!” Her voice was surprisingly quiet, and her lungs ached with darkness.

“Behind you, Annabelle, quickly,” she heard then, suddenly, and Annabelle turned around. Dark gray was everywhere; there wasn’t enough time. Alice smiled weakly at her, and it was then that Annabelle noticed the dark, growing line straight across her chest. Alice’s soul left her quietly, dressed in red, too red, too early. She would never come home.

“Alice,” she breathed, shocked and dizzy and surprisingly sad, “don’t leave me. Please...” And for a second, the fallen went away and it was silent and cold again. Alice handed her the sword.

“I’m sorry...” she whispered, her face wet with tears. She didn’t want to go, either, but she knew that she had to. Her chin was trembling as she tried to keep her sorrow inside. “I... I guess I won’t come home”, she murmured, weak and still in shock over what was happening. Annabelle took hold of her shoulders, desperate to keep her alive.

“No! You can’t leave me, you c-can’t... I’m lost, Alice, I’m lost and I’m scared. I don’t want to be alone. Please don’t leave me alone...”

Alice tried to smile but it didn’t work. She was too scared of what would happen, too scared of death and heaven, of darkness and light. She wasn’t going to die a beautiful death, and she was terribly sad of all the things she would never get to do. She missed John, too, and forgave him at last. When she had thought of dying before, this wasn’t what she had had in mind. She didn’t want to die anymore, but now she had no choice.

Annabelle still hadn’t taken the sword, and now Alice’s hands had begun to shake. She couldn’t hold it much longer.

“I don’t- I was never meant to come home, Annabelle”, she whispered. “I’m sorry I can’t help you anymore... I’m sorry... for leaving you.” Alice’s body had started to tremble and she was choking on her words. “I don’t want to go. I don’t-” Her eyes flinched, heavy with tears and sadness and waste; it wasn’t fair, none of it was fair. “I’m scared, Annabelle...”

Then Annabelle felt it, somehow; how her friend’s soul slowly disappeared - following the tears to the damp, cold ground, swirling with the whistling wind, high up above. Alice was leaving her, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

The girl coughed, and red colored her pale skin. Then her green eyes seemed to lose their shine; they became dark and dull, emptied of life and soul. Now, at last, had she left her; in the midst of the deep, dying forest, among sad summer flowers, withering leaves and a sweet september breeze. It was as if everything around her was dying, slowly, almost willingly, for the flowers and the leaves, they knew that as spring came, life would return. Nature would burst into color once again, and the memories of the fall would soon be forgotten.

But not Alice, she thought. No, Alice won’t come back again. Annabelle felt as if everything was out of control, impossible to reach. The boundary between dream and reality became blurred, and she no longer knew where she was, lost in a mist of gray.

Annabelle had trouble controlling her breathing when Alice fell down, bright red against the dark earth, black hair against her pale complexion. The colors dazzled her. Then she looked up, aware that only a few seconds had passed. Her face contorted with rage and all her problems and concerns merged into one, big and powerful. They deserved everything they would get; they deserved their impending doom. She secured her rifle and then threw it away; far, far away. Alice’s sword felt heavy yet firm in her grasp, and it wasn’t long before she raised it in attack. The screams vibrated silently within her; she refused to let them go.

They came closer to her, the fallen, and the evil - the darkness - in her ached unstoppable. Her breathing was short and fast, and silently she prayed to herself that it would come to an end. That something would come to an end. She fought hard, but no longer knew if what she was fighting for was worth it. Alice was dead, and who would Annabelle be if she came home without her, again; if she broke her promise? It was her fault that Alice had died, and it would come to haunt her endlessly.

Annabelle raised her sword, and managed with her last strength to make another of the fallen shadows one head shorter. The warm, dark blood splashed up on her, coloring her red, as the body of the fallen was pulled to the ground. Another one was gone; even more blood stained the quiet forest red. She tried to think of Killian and Katherine, but the color was etched in to her mind. She couldn’t focus on anything other than the blood.

Suddenly, Annabelle felt how her legs gave way underneath her, and she could no longer resist. She couldn’t fight anymore; it was over. I’m so sorry, Alice, that we never got to go home. And then all the gray merged together; the sky, the silence and the fallen became a mute darkness in which Annabelle no longer existed.

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