Amber frowned slightly in confusion, coming closer to the red-haired girl, Cressela following.
“Waiting for us? What do you mean?”
“You’re here to face Master Insanis, yes? Brave human girl you are. Tell me,” she continued, gesturing for Amber to sit opposite her, “how did you two meet?”
Amber glanced at Cressela, then back at the red-haired girl gazing at her calmly, interest sparkling in her deep green eyes.
“It’s... it’s a long story...” she started, “who are you?”
“Rubie Rossuna,” the girl replied in a silky smooth voice, “and Cressela? Who’ve you bought with you?”
“Amber Obscura. She’s here to save us all.”
Rubie smiled, her forest-green eyes darkening a little as her expression gave off mocking and dismissive vibes.
“Of course you are. Here to save us all.” Rubie’s eyes shifted to the cool, creamy ground, then flicked back to Amber.
“Amber. How old are you?”
“Fifteen,” she replied, a little hesitantly. Rubie smiled slightly, nodding.
“Fifteen,” she repeated, her voice slow and steady. “So, quite young human girl. Why did you come? Why not run away and move on, like other humans? Do you fancy yourself a... a hero?”
Amber shook her head.
“No, it’s not that-”
“It’s not that. Of course it isn’t.” Rubie smiled in a seemingly kind way. “So, you must fancy yourself... an adventure?”
Amber didn’t reply, breaking eye contact for a moment. Cressela observed, her dark eyes wandering over the room as she remained quiet.
“Adventure,” Rubie went on, her expression changing into one of slight wistfulness, “a word I have heard of, but never seen. While you go off wherever you go, looking for these adventures, what you think I do?”
Amber didn’t answer, shaking her head a little, and Cressela looked over to Rubie in understanding.
“I stay right here. In this room. In this place. Master observes every once in a while, but that all. Training our powers, talking to others here, obeying Insanis. That is all. Unless we are told to do something else. That is life... until we carry out the Last Task.”
Amber frowned, looking up at her in confusion.
“What last task?”
Rubie shook her head, smiling lightly.
“Don’t ask me. I not been told. I just do as the Master asks...”
“You do everything he tells you to?” Amber sighed, sitting up. “Must you?”
"Must I? Amber, I seen what he does to those who don’t listen. Who doesn’t follow his orders. You think you know what a nightmare is? You think you’ve seen fear? Master Insanis, he’ll show you what a living, waking nightmare is in less than a minute. Insanis, he’ll outdo fear. You, young human girl, you really want that adventure?”
Amber shivered a little at the thoughts of it but forcefully pushed them away, shaking her head.
“So I’ve heard. You all want me to turn back, to give up trying - but I won’t. I won’t... I can’t.”
Rubie’s eyes fixed onto Amber, studying her, unblinking for a few long moments. Then she sat back, curiosity and wonder evident in her eyes.
“Tenacious, you are.” Rubie smiled at her, then nodding at Cressela.
“I can’t take you further. Down the hall, behind those doors, a friend of mine is. She will be able to take you further.”
Amber nodded, smiling at her gratefully.
“Thank you. We will come back for you, when we finish this.”
Rubie smiled, shrugging and shaking her head lightly.
“So you will. Go.”
Amber and Cressela stood up, walking on together to the large wooden doors as Rubie watched them intensely, her green eyes outlining with a vibrant, gleaming gold as they went. She smiled, looking away and tracing her fingers across the marble flooring, the surfaces that she skimmed changing into a fiery red-orange colour before dying back into the natural cream shade.
Cressela strenuously pushed open the heavy wooden doors, and the two girls stepped side by side into the large stone hallway, with similar colours to that of Rubie’s lair. There were several steps leading downwards and long, thick poles that stood belittlingly atop of large, white brickwork. The aura of the place was dark and unsettling, with a stuffy, warm temperature that hung in the air. Cressela and Amber shared a look, Amber smiling in a reassuring manner as she continued down the stairs, Cressela following close behind, then bumping into her as she halted abruptly at the last step.
There, at the end of the short hallway, was a pale girls figure, dressed in a ruffled black dress with a bow to the side, and sharp white fingernails, with a red inky substance dripping off of one hand. Black swirling tattoos were inscribed on her upper arms, and her fine, straight hair was a bleach blonde colour, her eyes shaded blue and her lips a bold red. Around her lips was the same red liquid, and her eyes were almost all white, except for her pupils, which were a soft, baby blue. They instantly flicked over to Amber, her expression unchanging from her monotone and peaceful one, and she nodded at her.
“You. Human girl. Who are you?”
Amber slowly approached the girl, Cressela anxiously following behind, and she sat opposite her.
“I’m Amber. Amber Obscura... and I’ve come-”
“Yes yes,” the girl interrupted impatiently, “I know why you’ve come. But that still doesn’t answer my question. Who are you?”
Amber didn’t reply for a moment, taken aback by her question, not knowing how to reply. The girl nodded.
“Whitney Wynter,” she said, brushing ashen locks away from her face, “one of the first of my kind put here. There is no point in lies or attempted deception with me. I can see through words. I can see past actions to intentions. And I see something more, Amber Obscura. You know what that is?”
Amber shook her head silently, captured by Whitney’s exotic and eccentric presence as she listened intently.
“I see behind your determined and defiant attitude, though I do admire it. I see confusion,” Whitney continued, her voice quieter and emphasising as she looked straight into Amber’s eyes, “I see wonder, and curiosity. I see upset, and I see your difference. Do you know what makes you so different, Amber Obscura? Why you feel so different?”
Amber frowned a little, shaking her head.
“So. If you could know the answer to one personal question, just one... name it. I’ll tell you.”
“Why do you want to do that?” Amber questioned warily. “Why would you want to try to help me? None of you want me to go to the last level, do you?”
“Actions without reasons do not exist here, Amber. But I won’t stop you. I see that you are our only chance. The justice that has risen at the perfect time. That’s you, Amber Obscura. But I feel, you may be uplifted and assured if your question was answered.”
Amber nodded slowly, still unsure.
“You aren’t trying to trap me?”
Whitney smiled a little, shaking her head.
“No trapping. This isn’t blood, Amber, it’s this.”
Whitney held up a silver patterned wine glass, filled with the same red liquid.
“Humans drink water,” Whitney answered, placing the cup back down beside her, “I drink Kyria. A unique mixture Insanis made to boost my abilities.”
Amber nodded, and Whitney’s attention shifted to Cressela, as she smiled kindly.
“Cressela. How have you fared?”
Cressela nodded, smiling slightly back.
“Yes, I can see your past pains. But you have been raised up from the darkness now. Look, not to the past, but ahead.” Then Whitney looked back at Amber, holding out her pale hands to her.
“Now, Amber. What answer do you seek?”
Amber placed her hands on top of Whitney’s after a moment, looking into her eyes, as new, unfamiliar and unsure feelings crept through her body, like shivers down a spine. She breathed in deeply through her nose, calming herself before she responded to Whitney, who smiled knowingly and her blue eyes glittered.
“Who are my parents, Whitney?”