Early that morning Winter arose to a noise. A soft sound that caught her attention, almost like someone had dropped something. An arm hung loosely over her hip and a warmth surrounded her back.
"Blake?" She mumbled drowsily to the figure. With no response she investigated further and pieced together that it was Tanner asleep next to her. She sighed as she recalled the night's events and rested a hand to her forehead. She rolled over onto her right side to inspect Tanner a little closer.
A faint glitter of sunlight crept through the window above them; and then Winter noticed the dampness of his skin. She ran a thumb against his cheek to brush away the loose tears.
What was he crying about?
A soft snore escaped his lips before he slowly stirred and rolled onto his side with his back to her. She frowned and stood up from the bed. Winter flickered on a bedside lamp that encased the room in a rich golden light. She squinted as her eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness before she began to shuffle through her drawers. For some compelling reason she decided now was the time to get up and get ready for the day.
Tanner remained asleep as she ruffled around for a towel and with a glance at him over her shoulder, she closed the door to the bathroom. She let her black yoga pants slip from her hips and yanked her T shirt over her head.
"God I ruined it." She groaned and ran her finger over several black makeup stains that were visible on the white cloth. She tossed it to the ground in disgust.
"Maybe bleach will get it out." Winter noted and bent over to crank on the knob to the shower. Winter eyed herself in the mirror with distaste. Her hips were prominent and she ran a fingertip over the edges of her rib cage and pointy collar bone. She had lost a lot of weight lately. She threw a glance at the scale that laid on the floor- ignored it- then stepped into the shower.
The water was hot when it hit her. Like a shower of lava it rained down on her. Steam drifted up into the air and fogged the mirror. She let the stream clear her nose and she lowered herself onto the ground in the shower. The water was so hot it tainted her skin red the longer she stayed under it.
But she didn't care.
She tipped her head back to let it rest against the tan wall of the shower. The water caressed her face and ran down her chest. When she opened her eyes to watch the steam float up to the ceiling she thought to herself 'it looks like smoke.'
The funeral had been overwhelming. Blake disappearing had been overwhelming. The dance planning was a nightmare. She had been there for very little of the details, and the girls had pretty much rejected her from the club when she did show up for meetings, fundraising, and decorating.
A soft tear rolled down her cheek and was quickly eaten by the beating of the hot water. She let it out slowly. Her ribs shook and she closed her eyes as a choked sob racked her body. It came out shakily like she was afraid Tanner would hear.
She let the tears come out rapidly and she buried her face within her burned arms.
"It hurts. . ." She cried and another sob fell through her shoulders. "It hurts so bad!" Almost on cue the water dulled its temperature. It relaxed its heat as the water furnace ran out and the water grew colder with every second.
She stood up shakily after turning off the water and ran into the counter. She panted heavily and pressed a hand to her chest as her heart skipped. She stared at the fogged over mirror for a moment before something caught her eye. A glimmer of light. She pressed her hands against the mirror to rub it free. The light glimmered again. Frustrated, she grabbed a hand towel and slammed it against the glass to clear it quicker. Then she gasped at what she saw. She was burned, red and hot, but what caught her eye was a soft glint in the center of her chest over her heart. She pressed a finger to it curiously. A smile melted over her face and suddenly she did not feel so alone.
She reached out to the mirror to touch the golden light and as quickly as she saw it-she saw him. Blake was before her in the mirror. He met her eyes and he reached out a hand to her to touch her fingertips. He mouthed something to her and her heart fell.
She couldn't read his lips. There was blood on his chest. He looked so tired, and his clothes were torn. He smiled at her and pressed his forehead against the glass.
"Blake!" She shouted to him and her eyes darted all around the mirror. "Where are you?" She cried and pressed both of her hands to the glass. "Are you okay?" The image of Blake disappeared and only she was left in the glass staring at herself.
"Bring him back!" She screamed at the mirror and slammed her fist against it. The glass cracked and shards spread out throughout the air as she slammed it one more time. They fell over her hair and scattered to the ground with a large bang.
"Where did you go?" She spoke slowly and picked up a glass shard to stare into it. Her lip quivered and she fell onto her knees in the glass. She felt it dig into her skin but she didn't care. The door was forced open and Tanner barged in. It took him a second to adjust to the scene but he approached her side quickly.
"Winter?" She heard in the back of her mind, but she didn't answer. She felt herself checking out. The world around her grew fuzzy and she was beginning to think it was not because of the steam from the shower. It was hot. She thought she saw the glass around her burst into flames. She was surrounded by flames and smoke and hissing sounds. She was on fire.
"Winter!" She was shaken back to reality as a face came into focus. Tanner held her in his strong grip on either side of her shoulders. He shook her once more.
"Are you okay?" He asked but she couldn't answer that question.
"Am I okay?" The words echoed around in her head and she stared at him blankly. He brushed her wet hair out of her eyes and waved a few fingers in front of her face. His voice was inaudible.
"Where is Blake, is he okay?"
"Am I okay?" She repeated again to herself and she felt herself falling. Falling back into a horror that she couldn't escape. She was surrounded in fear, in blood. Dead twisted limbs of family members under debris that she held onto.
"Gone, gone, gone, gone, GONE!"
She gasped for air and her nails dug into Tanner's arms. He winced and shook her once again.
"What the hell is wrong with you!" He shouted at her and pulled her close to his chest. Winter noticed his heart was thudding like horse hooves. She let out a choked cry as his hands rested against her burned skin.
She remained silent, naked, and hot in his arms. Tanner quickly grabbed a towel to wrap around her shoulders and awkwardly looked the other way as he held her. She remained frozen in shock. He picked her up gently in his arms. His shoes crunched over the glass. Tanner brought her into the bedroom and laid her on her bed. He stared toward her knees, but felt like her physical wounds were not the thing that was destroying her. He tipped a little bit of water in her mouth when he noticed she was feverish.
Tanner bit his lip and did what he knew he shouldn't do. He lowered his head down toward Winter to look into her eyes. She didn't focus on him, she seemed to be in a different world.
He nestled his nose against her forehead tenderly.
"Let me in." He whispered and arched his neck to press his forehead to hers. She let him in.
And Asmodian the Caster of Mischief, Tanner the human, entered into Winter's mind. Asmodian sighed as he felt his conscious enter into hers, it was an intimate gesture among their kind.
His boots were covered in soot, blood, and dirt. He wandered through Winter's mind and was surprised to see how empty it truly was. It was a wasteland of black and smoke. He wandered through several scorched trees until he came upon a massive house. Well, what used to be a house. It's pillars were charred and several pieces were missing if they hadn't collapsed already. He wandered through the open arch way and stared all around through the floor plan. The walls were open to some rooms, others floorboards were missing, and in some there was nothing at all but a burned bed frame.
He stepped on a bone with a crutch and winced.
"I wouldn't go in there if I was you." A little voice spoke up from behind him. A little girl with a short black pony tail stared up at him. She only rose to about as tall as his knee and tilted her head curiously at him.
"That's mom's room." She clarified and turned to walk up a blackened stone staircase. Asmodian raised a brow and followed after the little girl hesitantly.
"Who are you?" He asked and bent down to scoop up something from the ash. A thick locket hung nimbly from a solid gold chain. The picture was unable to be seen.
"I'm Winter Rosetta Vandelann." The little girl announced proudly, she curtsied for him in her small black skirt before her face twisted into a sneer.
"What are you supposed to be?" She motioned to his blonde tinted locks and odd apparel.
"A sad excuse for a clown?" She smirked and waved her hand at him.
"Go away, I'm busy and I don't have time to talk to people like you." Asmodian felt his pride surge.
"You little brat." He snapped and lunged for her and missed. She laughed and ran up the stairs quickly and turned only to stick her tongue out toward him.
"Catch me if you can, you smuck!" Asmodian growled and charged up the stairs after her.
"Where did that little brat go?" He panted and rested his arm against the wall to catch his breath. The wall gave way a little bit and he stood up straight to stare to the first door. Each step he took the floorboards groaned under his weight. He felt like he was walking on eggshells.
He turned the corner and peeked his head into the first room on the right. A small toy box sat in the middle and the little girl was playing with a teddy bear that had seen better days.
"You shouldn't be here. No one's supposed to be here. It's a secret." The girl told him sternly, she turned toward him and crossed her arms.
"Mom told me to keep it a secret, so go home." Asmodian acknowledged her statement.
"Well secrets are boring if only one person knows them." He sighed and picked up a burned book to glance at the cover.
Gone with the Wind.
"What happened here?" Asmodian asked and knelt down before her on one knee so she could see his eyes. She seemed to like looking at his eyes and cautiously stretched out a hand to rub her fingers through his curls. She giggled and pressed her small hands on either side of his cheeks and pushed them together as though he was a fish. He jerked back and rubbed his cheeks.
"Some bad people burned our house down." She half frowned and continued to mess with his curls. Her hands became hesitant and she reached down to pick up her bear slowly.
"My dad hurt my mom." She stroked the bear's head softly. The eight year old Winter looked shyly to Asmodian.
"I'm not sure why he did it. But ever since then they haven't talked to me." She sat down on the ground in defeat and curled her knees up to her chest.
"I am so alone."
"Hey, hey, you're not alone." Asmodian rested a hand against her back. Her body was so small he could have wrapped both of his hands around her entire torso.
"You have me."
"I don't know you." She spat and stuck out her tongue at him. Asmodian raised an eyebrow at the sudden change in mood.
"I'm not alone. . .I have Blake." She smiled and pointed out to the window. Asmodian seemed confused and rose onto his feet. He slowly stepped out toward the window pane to peer through it. Sure enough, outside of the house stood a small boy with brown wispy hair and bright green eyes.
And he was staring directly at Asmodian.
"You wanna come meet him?" Winter asked and reached out to grab his hand within hers.
"We've already met." Asmodian sighed and smiled down to her. "You go have fun with your friend."
Winter nodded and turned to the door. She paused for a moment and then reached down to pick up her bear. She looked at him before giving him to Asmodian. She put both of her hands behind her back and then smiled at him.
"I like you!" She exclaimed and then turned to run for the door laughing. Asmodian tilted his head and watched out the window as Winter ran into Blake playfully. He began talking to her quickly and pointing up at the window. He noticed then there were several other figures standing on the outskirts of the home, all in the form of children. Familiar faces he had seen outside the mortal realm. Off in the corner, a glint of light caught his attention. It glimmered like the sunrise in the land of black.
The Prime Crystal.
He had a feeling that Blake and Winter were entangled more than he knew. And it was going to be near impossible to get the crystal knowing Blake's subconscious was entwined with Winter's. He closed his eyes and exited her mind.
"Oh god. . .what happened?" Winter mumbled and held her head. She noticed Tanner staring intensely at her and then realized she was naked. She squeaked and reached for a blanket to cover herself with. She winced in pain.
"God. . .what the hell is that?" She looked at her knees that were saturated in blood.
"Oh no. .. " She tried to sit up quickly but Tanner kept a hand on her shoulder.
"Stay still." He muttered to her and stood up to get the first aid kit down the hall.
"It wasn't a dream. . ." Winter whispered and glanced into the bathroom through the open door. Glass laid on the floor. She had seen Blake.
"He's still alive." She spoke even softer and smiled to herself.
"He's not dead!" She brought a hand to her lips. "My knees. . . " She pressed her lips together.
"What the hell is going on?" She sighed and let her head fall back into the pillows. Tanner returned shortly with the first aid kit to begin pulling out the small glass shards.
"What happened Tanner?" She asked quietly after a few moments. He shrugged his shoulders and continued his work. He finished the first knee and then resumed to the right.
"You tell me."
She closed her eyes and shook her head.
"You'd think I was crazy."
"Try me." He stopped and glanced up at her seriously. She stayed quiet for a few minutes.
"I saw Blake. . .in the mirror." Tanner froze for a moment and then continued to bandage up her knees.
"Maybe you hit your head when you fell down. . "
"He said he was coming." She snapped and looked at him seriously. Tanner closed the box and stood up. He flashed a small smile toward Winter. He finished wrapping the last of the gauze around her right knee and bit off a piece of tape between his teeth.
"Well, if he is he'll be just in time to see us off .. still want to go to the dance?" She nodded her head. "They would kill me if I didn't show." Well then we've gotta get ready." He offered her a hand and she stood up with his help.
"But first I've got to clean the bathroom." Winter sighed and reached into the closet for a broom. Tanner watched her before he turned to leave. His eyes narrowed.
His time was growing limited. He needed to figure out how to get the Prime Crystal and quickly before Aion returned. Or else he would lose both the power and Winter. His pace increased when he turned the corner, intentions upon returning to the men's dorm.
He smiled when he ran into three familiar faces. The women smirked toward him and the large red headed girl pressed her hands against the wall to stop him from crossing.
"Well Asmodian. . how has fetching the crystal been, any luck?" She waited patiently for an answer and he pushed her arms down.
"Unfortunately June, it's taking longer than I thought. The spells don't work on her and I'm afraid she's infatuated with Aion."
"Tsk, Tsk, Irena won't be happy to hear that. ."
"What of Aion?" Tanner interrupted and met her gaze. He seemed very desperate for an answer.
"Irena has him locked up safe and sound." June whispered and quieted down.
He nodded his head. "I've found the crystal but it's gaurded by the consciousness of several other casters. . .I'm not sure how I can get it out of her. I thought this would be more simple." He sighed and pressed his back against the wall.
"It's not as simple as a kiss, and she trusts me that's the only reason she has let me in so far.."
The small brunette sighed and glanced up at him. Her shadow curled abnormally on the ground as though it was a monster.
"I might have an idea."