Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Chapter 15 - The Cult of Zancha

"Try again," he snarled, raising his hammer high, his target being my fragile skull.

I panicked, how could I not? We had been at this for the past few hours, I had missed breakfast, and Akiddo was mocking me from across the courtyard, that smug smirk on his face all but begging to be punched off. But I wouldn't and I couldn't... Maelin said I needed to use that annoyance to fuel my hits...

Yes, I was back at this... fighting one on one with my new trainer: Maelin. I was going to get better, I was going to-

Pain exploded in my left side. "Focus, child, or I will hit you harder next time."

I gave a curt nod but otherwise kept my mouth shut, hand grasping my side where I was certain a beautiful bruise would form within the next minute or so. Now wasn't the time for snide and sarcastic comments, no matter how much I wanted to blurt them out.

Two more hours passed before Maelin finally let me leave, bruises and cuts lacing my body, adding to the artwork of burns that already crossed my flesh. I slid a tunic on, the fabric clinging to my sweat soaked skin. I took a right from the courtyard, the sounds of swords on wooden dummies getting quieter the further I moved away.

Revilo saw me, eyes widening as I entered the wash area. A few men fled at the sight of a woman in their place as if my presence some how made them uncomfortable... oh wait.... "What were you doing?" Revi asked, his voice cutting through my thoughts and pulling me back to the earth.

"Picking flowers," I answered, my tone hoarse, my short hair sticking to my forehead, a trickle of blood sliding down my face.

"Those were some aggressive flowers, you're bleeding."

"Ya think?" I asked, arching a brow as I moved to the wash basin near the back of the hall. "I was training, Maelin says my scythe is clumsy and a poor choice of a weapon..." I had to listen to him tell me that for at least an hour's worth of time. It was endless...

"Why not just stick to magic?" he asked. I had this gut feeling that Revi didn't like me so close to the enemies, so close to danger that could easily kill me. Or maybe I was over thinking it.

"I'm tired of being useless, I told you that," I began, rubbing a damp cloth along the back of my neck and over my arms.

He butted in, of course. "And I told you that your spells are useful and we need them more than we need another body up front close and personal."

I repressed the urge to growl at him. My voice went up, my anger starting to slide into my words, tired of having this talk. "I know how you feel about it, Revilo, and I-"

"You guys ready now or what?" Fur Ball came around the corner, ever impatient. "Or did you both forget that we are heading to the market to get Otiros his ingredients?"

"I didn't' forget, just cleaning up," I replied, squeezing out the cloth. I pulled Revilo with me, though it appeared he was ready to continue our argument. I leveled a glare with him and we headed out.

Twig and Fur Ball took the lead, both practically skipping through the sandy streets. "I have no idea how you used to live here," I commented, brushing dust out of my hair with my fingers. "I have sand in areas I didn't even know I could get sand in."

Revilo gave me a cheesy grin. "I could help you remove that sand, Dye," he started. I chuckled and playfully pushed him away, jogging to keep up with the other two. I would rather listen to their silliness rather than question how I felt about the fire man behind me.

"But what if, Sumi?" I heard Fur Ball ask, an expression of wonder on his face. Ah, I had missed yet another scheme of his.

"It won't work out that way, the universe will simply not allow it," Sumi commented, exasperated.

"But what if it could!"


He fell silent for a moment, giving me enough time to take a few steps away and losing myself in the markets. I heard Revilo call my name but I ignored it.... I felt a need to go this way, I had to find something... Ever since the coronation ceremony I had this sensation that something huge was going to happen... and that it would begin here.

"It's a good make!" I heard a woman's voice cut through the crowd, the tone shrill and irritated. "And easily worth more than five gold!"

The man who was currently being interrogated by the foreigner seemed as if he had had enough... but the woman, by the looks of her, needed this gold. Her clothes were tattered, clearly worn past their prime. Her skin was dirtied, sand crusting her flesh and hair. And the clothes in question were a good make, the cloth fine and embroidered.... worth more than five gold, that was simple to understand... the man was trying to get a cheap deal.

Moving forward, looping my arm around his shoulders, forcing my voice into a coo that was both sultry and alluring, "Sir, honestly. This is clearly worth at least fifteen gold. Ten gold is a fair price and only a tinsy bit more, right? You can afford that, yes?" I batted my eye lashed at him, smiling in a way I knew would work to my advantage.

He grunted, slammed ten gold down and began to walk away. Before he could get far I slid my slender fingers into his pocket, yanking out a coin purse as he melded with the crowds once more. "You deserved more, but this should cover it." I slid the leather pouch to the woman.... but my mouth popped open, eyes widened when I saw who she was.

Here, perhaps I should provide some context before I continue. See, when I had first left Rhapsody I traveled quite a bit, wanting to see what the realm had to offer. It was during my trip north that I got stuck... the snow trapping me in the mountains, secluding me to a cavern system that I had to share with a rather large bear... who didn't like me. When I was able to leave, I was bombarded with fire, a dragon attack causing me to flee further into the wilds, deeper into the woods. A druid camp was under siege and I did what I could to help but feared showing myself knowing of the legends of the dragon oracles and not wanting to be confused as one. The druid camp was failing miserably. The fire consumed their belongings, roasted men and women, children and pets. The fire flickered in my eyes and there was little I could do to stop it except to watch. The camp was no more within a matter of minutes, reduced to ash and ember. Their screams died out, the few that remained fled to the trees.

It was when I was leaving, tending to my own burns when I met her for the first time. She was injured, badly. A druid had managed to live but her wounds were near fatal - the burns so deep that I could almost see bone. She wasn't conscious, her face planted into the snow, snowflakes caking her, turning her lips blue.

I knew better, I knew the rules I was told. Don't interfere with fate - it was supposed to be that simple. But leaving this woman to die with the rest of her people was wrong, not when she could survive.

I built a fire, lifted her body to my camp. I knew little healing magick but possibly enough to save her. I worked all night, my head pounding when I was done, my vision blurring around the edges. I wasn't even sure if it had been enough. I took care of her for the following three days - forcing food into her mouth, gifting her with water, tending to her wounds, warming her with a fire... and all of it done without knowing if it would give her life.

On the morning of the fourth day, she was gone - the furs I left for her were empty. I remember looking for her, searching the area till night fell once more... but I never found her.

Till now, that is.

"Snowflake?" I asked, my voice barely above a whisper

She gave me a look that all but screamed 'you're crazy and I am about to run away'. I shook my head, putting my hands out. "Let me explain. I think I know you."

And by the time I told her the whole story, Revilo, Fur Ball, and Twig had found me, listening to the tail end. And she was staring at me, deciding on whether or not I was lying... something clicked though, I saw it in her eyes. Who else would be able to recall all of that with such detail?

"You're welcome, by the way," I added, sarcasm leaking into my voice. "Or is it druid custom to leave in the middle of the night in order to say thanks?"

Snowflake looked uncomfortable, her eyes switching to the ground. "Yeah, sorry about that. People outside of the druid camp were just stories, I really didn't think anyone else existed..."

Revilo was looking between the two of us, waiting to be introduced. But I didn't know the woman's name outside of Snowflake which was a stupid thing to introduce someone as. "Uh..." I began but she thankfully saved me.

"Lyethar." So, I had a name. But knowing my tendency to forget things easily, I knew that her name to me would remain as Snowflake until further notice.

"And that's Revilo, Arlim, and Sumi," their real names felt awkward on my tongue, almost like a foreign language I couldn't remember how to speak.

Snowflake smiled shyly before returning her attention to me. "Let me join you, help you. I can say my thanks in that way. You saved my life, the least I can do is return the favor for some time."

I held back my laughter. "You don't want to make such a promise, not with the group I am traveling with and the tasks we do."

She shook her head, determination coloring her features. "No, I want to make it up to you. I can be an asset, please."

I sent a worried glance at Revi but he merely shrugged a shoulder as if to say 'if she wants to join our madness then she can, she'll figure it out sooner or later how wrong of a choice that was'.

"Sure then. But you can leave whenever you want. You don't owe me anything." I ran a hand through my emerald hair, brushing some of the sand from it once more. "Guess I should show you back, huh? Do we have the items we needed for Otiros?" Fur Ball nodded, holding up a satchel full of alchemic ingredients that would do.... something.

Later that evening, after the feasts and the ceremonies, the dances and the songs, we all returned to our rooms. Fur Ball and Sumi came forward, exchanging looks. Finally Twig stepped forward. "We need to leave, we are needed elsewhere." I nearly coughed up the ale I had been drinking. "Somewhere else? You know, we could always help you."

Fur Ball joined in, "You can't. This is something just we need to do. I'm not sure if we'll ever be able to return."

I won't bore you with the sadness or the details... just know that they departed and hugs were given.

The only one who didn't really care was Snowflake but that was for obvious reasons.

"Little angel," it cooed, the childlike voice breaking through the darkness. "Over here, little angel."

"Stop calling me that!" I snarled, growing tired of this game of cat and mouse, growing tired of always losing. The flames were here, burning my flesh and scorching my hair.The heat so intense I could barely breath... but it was just a dream, I reminded myself of that. Just a dream.... it wasn't real. Not really.

"But it is, little angel. Why else would the burns mark your skin every time you wake up? Not a dream, hmm?"

Hands gripped my back, pressing against the once healed wounds. I screamed in agony, my vision blurring, lights dancing in front of my eyes. "If this was a dream, would that feel so real?" the voice asked, taunting me further as the pain increased.

I dropped to my hands and knees, no longer caring if I was resting in the flames. The fire was better than the torture.

"What do you want?" my voice sounded like it was being dragged across sand paper and nails, scratching against my burned throat and smoke filled lungs.

"For you to remember."

"Remember WHAT? There is nothing for me to REMEMBER!"

"But there is," the voice replied, calmer than ever. This was his game, he was the victor and he already knew that.

"Please just make it stop. I don't want to remember." Not if this hell was what my memories locked away from me, not if this was the solution. This barren wasteland filled with nothing but death and rotting flesh, of smoke and embers, of the dead and dying. If these were the memories I had forgotten, I had no desire to remember them.

"But you will need to some day."

I shook my head, trying to ignore the voice, willing it away.

"Two hundred years of forgotten memories.... I will force you to remember, angel. One day you won't be able to run any more." And as his laughter echoed through the empty halls of my nightmare, reality came slamming back into focus.

I glanced over to where Snowflake was sleeping, her breath coming in calm pants, eyes closed to the world and the havoc that took place inside of my head. Quietly making my way from the room, I snuck out to the corridor and to the wash room once more. It was empty save a maid who scurried out once I entered. 

"Remember what?" I whispered to myself, glaring at my own reflection in the mirror above the basin. "Two hundred years of forgotten memories?" It sounded like a lie, I was only 90, barely an adult... how could I have forgotten 200 years if I wasn't even a century old?

My own reflection didn't grant me any answers, just a scared face with glowing golden eyes. Turning slowly I lifted the blouse, glancing at my back in horror. The burns were worse, the skin inflamed and red, angry. It stung, tears fell from my eyes as the wing pattern formed. Gods, what did the demon child want from me? When would this end?

How long would I be tortured for answers I couldn't give?

I don't know what time Revilo found me. He was worried, almost frantic as he came charging into the room, not even changed into day clothes. The sun was peeking in through the cracked windows, coloring the room in hues of gold. I was sitting on the floor, head resting against the cold wall when he entered.

"Dye," he sighed, kneeling in front of me, strong hands grasping my shoulders, his expression filled with anxiety. "Found you."

I cracked a grin. "I had to pee."

His expression didn't change, he raised a hand and rubbed it gently under my eye. I couldn't deny the tingle that fled up my spine but I did my damnedest to ignore it.

"You're not sleeping again," he whispered. He knew I was lying but wouldn't tell me directly.

"Yeah, because my bladder was super full. Ran down here like I was on fire and then I guess I fell asleep," I looked away, scanning the floor as if it would provide with me a half-assed decent lie. Spoilers: it didn't.

"Dye..." he started but didn't continue. Revilo stood, swallowing whatever he wanted to say, and helped me to my feet. "We need to change, we are being titled today in front of the whole of Incidium." I nodded, remembering Otiros telling us that the day before and glad for the subject change.

I walked in front of him on the way back, feeling his worried eyes piercing holes into my back. Hopefully he would forget about it....

Hours later we were all standing in front of Otiros and his highest ranking nobles and thanes, an audience of civilians behind us - Snowflake included. It was blatantly obvious how suffocated the snow elf felt but she seemed to be coping well as Otiros began his speech.

"lords and Ladies, we gather here today to offer tribute to the men and women who aided the revival of the great city of Incindium. Without their efforts, Dythan's ruthless reign would still continue drowning us all in-"

Revilo fidgeted next to me, almost whispering to himself. I arched a brow at him. "Pay attention," I hissed under my breath. He sent an annoyed glare at me before forcing his focus forward.

"And now we bestow upon them the title of-"

Fire child muttered something, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment. "Really?" I mouthed but he shook his head at me mouthing 'Not my fault'.

"With this title comes a great responsibility to uphold the nation, vowing to honor our values and beliefs. In return, we too shall honor you, granting you say in our courts."

Each of us were given a pin, showing our duty to Incindium. Those behind us erupted into applause, a women or two were crying for reasons I couldn't figure out. Otiros bowed to us before we returned it.

On our way out, Revilo caught my arm. He was about to speak but a guard showed up, overshadowing what the man had to tell me. "The feast is this way, if you would please follow me."

The festivities continued. Men and women alike flocked to Akiddo, granting them their faithfulness... among other things. I sat in the corner with Snowflake, mocking the women who wandered past with their gossip and drama. Revilo looked mildly uncomfortable as young ladies circled him, each begging for a dance. His cheeks were red, fire lit eyes wide and innocent. Quite handsome, it was no wonder the girls longed for his hand.

Snowflake nudged me in the ribs, the white gown I had on flowing around me as I turned to meet her gaze. "You like him," she whispered.

I rolled my golden eyes and shook my head, attempting to blow off her accurate assumptions as silly nonsense. "But you do, and you're jealous that those noble ladies are going to have a better shot than you because you're too scared to go over there." Snowflake chuckled at me, causing my eyes to narrow in annoyance. "All the stories of you staring down danger and fighting off evil with this group... and a lone man stops you in your tracks."

She hade a fair point....

Which I promptly discarded. Revilo didn't care for me in such a way and was foolish to think he ever would. If only he knew everything, he would label me as crazy and leave me behind. I let out a slow sigh and answered, "I respect his abilities. Nothing more." She paused, trying to decide if she believed me or not... I had mastered the ability to bluff my way through most problems, however, so she eventually fell for it and left me alone.


"Here, have a drink of my people," I answered, plopping down the mug of steaming milk and chocolate for Snowflake to have as she snuggled into her blankets. Her wolves, Baelin and Arilyth, moved to greet me. Much like Henry and Scale's baby wyrm, the animals warmed up to me. It was nice to know I at least could have companionship with animals in case all kind of human life fails me.

She took the cup, ice white eyes widening as her lips touched the rim. "What is this?"

"Hot chocolate, it's delicious but will do little to help with the hangover you will have tomorrow morning." My hair was still pinned up though I now wore nothing more than a pair of lose shorts and a baggy blouse. Might as well be comfortable. There were shouts from the next room followed by laughter as the men jested about.

"Is it always like this?" Snowflake asked after some time, the other room quieting down as the boys made their way to their rooms.

"You mean the parties and the music?" I retorted. She nodded in return. "Nope. I'm actually nothing more than a teacher who was in the wrong place at the right time." Without Corona all those weeks ago, I would never be where I was now. Interesting how life can throw fun at you like that.

"Oh I-" Snowflake started but never was able to finish. The candle flames flickered out, a crash heard as a window was blown in. I tensed, standing up and moving to the door in a matter of seconds, bare feet making almost no sound as I moved. Snowflake was behind me, encouraging the small white baby Arilyth into her pack. Dragon came out, bursting down the hall... and right into an attack by hooded men.

"Can't we have three seconds of fun?" I asked bitterly, reaching back into the room to grab my scythe.

A raspy voice answered me, "Oh, little girl, you lack armor, you'll be an easy one to take. And oh so adorable...." I gave a smug facial expression before putting my arms out. Bones crept along my flesh, welding together into my armor. His mouth popped open.

"yeah, that's what I thought, ass hole," I hissed, golden eyes flickering with irritation. "Now it's my turn. See your friend over there?" I nodded my head towards his buddy who was breathing an attack towards my group. "Go stab him for me."

Unable to break my will, my target walked over, his steps unmeasured and uneven, clumsy but precise enough. His blade slid out, gently stabbing into the man's belly. He cried out, the damage minimal.... though I did now know that the blades were poisoned. "That was weak!" I snapped, crossing my arms in front of me. I chose a poor host for my actions it seemed.

Baelin joined the fray, launching a volley of his own bite attacks as his master attempted to fire a shot. Attempted is the choice word here since the arrow didn't actually manage to fire from the bow and instead fell to the ground in a clatter.

Dragon began his punching, flurry of blows activating and doing some deadly damage. Revilo was flaring up his magick, the air becoming a whirl of power that made my breath catch. I sometimes forgot how much control he had.

I snapped my fingers getting the attention of my once controllable slave. "This is how you attack someone," I snarled, raising my scythe and lashing it around in a sharp arc, curving the blade into his abdomen. Blood spewed from the gaping hole, coloring the stone floors in red. Guess we would need a clean up. "How fucking adorable am I now?""

The other was easy to dispose of and the last one fell unconscious. Snowflake looked winded, her lips parting as if to ask a question... Which I answered without needing it to be said. "Yes, this is what it is normally like."

She gave a weak nod, Baelin returning to her side and licking her cheek. The real word was less tame than the wild forests.

Akiddo and Revilo circled the now tied unconscious teifling. "Here," I instructed, gently pushing my way between them as I slid my slender finger along his cheek, light following the touch and pouring life back into the man... just enough life to wake him up.

"Hey buddy," I cooed, crouching so I was at his level, the amulet Revilo gave me visible and shining. "Can you tell me why it was a super duper swell idea to attack us? Who sent you?" My voice was sickly sweet, eyes wide and innocent.

Surprisingly it wasn't the man who answered me... But Revilo. "They wanted me... Or, I guess, this," he pulled his black blade Azadon from his hilt. "It can be part of a ritual to unleash Zancha...."

Akiddo and I stared blankly at him for a few moments before the dragonborn muttered, "And you didn't tell us this before because..."

"Because he just told me. He tried to during the ceremony but..." he gave me a look. "Somebody kept interrupting me." Oh, my bad...

By this time, the guards have arrived, their arms reaching down and hefting their new captive into the air. "Where to, sir?" they asked Akkido.

"The dungeons, he is more use to us there than dead."

It wasn't until they were out the door and down the hall that my eyes widened and I went racing after them. "Wait!!" I shouted, bare feet smacking against the ground. Grabbing hold of the man's collar I pulled him down to meet my eyes. "Where is your hideout? Where do you meet? Your base of operations? Where is it?" My voice was cold, stern... I wasn't playing nice. We needed this information to stamp out the rest of their group, to end this. If we waited too long our chance my leave and they could start up elsewhere. Couldn't have that now, could we?

"Under.... Under the statue of Zancha. There's a secret door..." he hedged.

"Where?" I growled, tightening my grip.

"On the base in the back.... the handle is invisible but it can be opened if you find the the latch that is along the cobblestones."

"Thanks, pumpkin." I gave a curt nod to the guards who then proceeded towards the dungeons once more.

Walking back into the room I called in a singsong voice, "I know where they are hiding and how to get in."

Akiddo nodded. "We should bring this to Otiros's attention first then make our way there. The mage might have extra information we will need."

I wanted to argue that Azadon had all the information we may require but figured that was more of Revilo's line than my own and since he didn't volunteer it I remained quiet as we trekked our way to Otiros's quarters.


"I didn't realize that your sword was a black blade.... much less the one that would bring Zancha back into existance." Otiros was gazing at Azadon, the blade now resting on the oak desk, the light making the symbols barely visible.

"It works like a key," he continued. "It can be used with an alter to unlock the bonds that keep Zancha in his realm, allowing him to unleash havoc on the world. If what you told me is true, and I have no reason to believe you are lying, the teiflings who attacked you likely plan to bring their God back by using Azadon... meaning they must have the alter in their possession, or at least one of the many alters scattered around the realm." Great, that made me feel eons more comfortable knowing that Zancha could be reawakened if anybody ever got their greedy hands on Azadon... or if Revilo's will weakened too much and the sword took over.

"We'll leave it here," Akiddo replied, giving Revi a sharp look. It made sense but ordering the fire man around was hardly a smart idea. He hesitated. I couldn't blame him. Being a magus, he needed that blade to fuel a lot of his spells... without he would be greatly weakened. But when the alternative is unleashing a mad God, you give it up.

Needless to say, Azadon was left with Otiros as we made out way to the Zancha statue.

The streets were empty now, the festivities calming down enough where those who remained up were street rats and urchins, whores and prostitutes. Upon reaching the statue I leaned down, pulling on the handle and lifting the back up for us to enter.

The halls were lit enough to see, dim enough where I didn't have to squint but not exactly dark enough where my dark vision would kick in. We entered a large room, three paths branching out. Voices were heard below, the sound increasing in volume as they neared. Akiddo took to the ceilings as the rest of us slid into corners, melding with shadows.

Two of the branching out hallways led to below, four teiflings arriving from them. Two of them started for the center of the room, ready to fall into the dragonborn's trap. One headed towards the corner with Revilo and Snowflake as the last one started for the last hallway in the room... a lever on the wall which would open... something. We couldn't have that.

Using my influence, I encouraged the man to forget about the lever and to head to his friends in the middle of the room. With a battle cry, Akiddo came crashing down, launching an onslaught of attacks, his punches slamming into every one of the three opponents before him, knocking them back.

Magick flung into the air next in the form of a bullet when Revi made his first attack. I stuck to my training, hacking and slashing. Snowflake was beginning to find the flow, the rhythm of our group, as her attacks began to hit with a slightly higher margin of accuracy.

Much like the three that went down in our quarters, these four fell just as easily.

I started forward, black magick curling around my finger tips in a sparky cloud of doom. I reached forward to touch one of the remaining unconscious teiflings... "STOP!"

"Really?" I snapped, turning angrily, fingers clenching into a tight fist. "You're going to stop me from killing a demon whose sole intent is to bring back an evil God who is going to scorch us all to death? He was just trying to slaughter us five seconds ago and NOW I can't kill him because he's unconscious?”

"He needs to having a fighting chance," Akiddo began.

"And he had one! And he sucked at it! He had a chance and now it's my turn!" I knew how much power I could have if I used death knell on this fucker... but Akiddo wouldn't let me because of his freaking God.

My rage consumed me as I blurted out, "Fine! Let's do this your way, shall we?" Maelin would be so damn proud of me right now. "Wake up!" I demanded, slapping my hand against the teifling's face with a stabilize spell on my palm. Revilo untied him for me.

"You get one shot. One."

"Now hold on..." Akiddo began.

"No! This is FAIR, Akiddo. He has a shot, he has a chance to down me. Yes, it is unlikely but following your rules, it is just and fair." I even handed him his sword back and put out my arms. "And when he fails I will do my spell once more."

The teifling looked scared.... knowing his chances of actually touching me were slim to none. Unless he could cast Wish, which I was certain he couldn't, he was royally screwed.

Taking a deep breath he sent an attack of fire at me. He heated my bone armor slightly but not enough to do anything harmful. "That was cute," I cooed, brushing the ash from my shoulders. "My turn." And with that I reached forward, clasping my fingers around his throat, sliding the nails down to his heart where I drew in his remaining life and power. I could feel my strength increase, my vitality sore. His body slumped to the dust, my eyes glowing bright as I glared back at the group over my shoulder, a sinister smile on my lips.

"Great, we're all happy now, right? Right. Fantastic," I replied to their silence. Snowflake looked at me with mild horror. Yes, she understood now: you stay on my good side.

We moved to the third hallway in the room. "Any one know what's behind it?" I asked, trying to peek through the bars.

Snowflake nodded. "A very venomous type of cobra that could kill us with a powerful poison that has no known antidote... at least in this area."

Revilo and Akiddo glanced at each other, likely sharing the same thought I had running through my head. "I don't want those getting out," Revi whispered.

"Then they won't." I moved over to the lever, grabbing it tightly before slamming it to the right, my magick coupling with the yank to bust the device that would open the cage. "Unless they can repair objects magickly, the lil' snakes can stay stuck in there."

And with that we moved to the basement. Before us stood a glass mosaic inlayed into the stone floor. An alter Rested further ahead. Snowflake commented, "Three guesses what that does."

I chuckled but then turned my focus to the two foes in the room, our ring leaders. They were tricky to dispatch of, able to cloak themselves by eating moss which granted them invisibility. Still, they went down in a few rounds. That left us an alter to deal with. "Shall we?" I asked Akiddo, stepping towards it, raising a fist. "We can do this your way." He gave me a wicked toothy grin as he raised his own hand. Both of us punched forward, cleaving the alter in two before pausing to fist pump each other.

"Can we go home now?" I heard Snowflake ask from behind me, Baelin adding a small yip in response.

"Yeah, we can go home." Though I knew tomorrow would only bring more havoc and mayhem.

I went with Revilo to grab his blade, my eyes watching Azadon warily. "Revilo..." I started.

"I know, Dye. I got this under control. I promise. You worry too much." He winked playfully before taking my hand and leading me back to the quarters.

"You're one to talk."

It towered over me, a large silver container with an unknown item inside. The flames brought it to me, granted it to me in a puff of smoke and embers.

"Open it, angel." I had followed him this time, going where he wanted me to go. I didn't want to remember, I wanted to forget.... but hopefully if I played this game long enough, he would let me go. The nightmare could end.

"How?" I asked, peering up at the box as the fire ate away at the white cotton dress I wore, licked my bare feet and naked legs. It burned beyond imagine, the heat past anything I had felt before... but I welcomed it now. Perhaps it was a test, one that I needed to pass.

"You will remember how, you've done it before." I squinted, staring at the silver case for an opening mechanism but found nothing.

"Tick, tock, running gout of time, angel."

"Then tell me how to open it!" I snarled, golden eyes flashing.

"Oooo, that rage part of you is new. There's always something new, always something. Last time it was scythe, I see that you brought that back again."

How did he know this?

"Is the fire man still there too? He always makes such a good toy for me."

"Don't you dare!" I spun from the box, reaching out with my power.

"Touch a nerve, did I?"

I curled a lip, my rage consuming me.

"Time's up, angel."

The ground below me disappeared, leaving me to fall into the endless abyss as the fire ate my soul.

"Ever hear of coffee? Rumor says it does wonders to wake people up." Revilo pushed a cup in my direction. "Oh wait, but... you are sleeping just fine, right? So, I guess you don't need this." he reached over to take it back but I slammed my hand over the top.

"Thought so," he answered, sounding satisfied with himself as he moved to sit next to me. "You going to tell me yet?"

I glanced over to him, fear in my eyes. Would he be used against me? Would he get hurt because of me? It would be my fault. The demon in my nightmares, whoever he was, knew of Revi... who apparently was always there... What did that even mean? I didn't understand. "It's always something new," I whispered.

"Actually I've been wanting to know this for the past few days, or were you too tired and forgot about that?"

"Not you," I murmured, rubbing the heel of my hand into my tired eyes. Gods, what did this all mean? "Just... let me figure it all out first."

"But I can help," he answered, resting a caring hand on my shoulder, his voice holding nothing more worry for me.

"I'll keep that in mind." I stood, moving away from him. Maybe if I put some distance between us, the demon man would stop using him as bait. Maybe he wouldn't die this time.... My eyes widened. What? Where did that come from? This time? No, maybe he wouldn't die. Period. Not 'this time', This was the only time I have ever met him. Not before. If I wasn't careful I would start believing this guy.

Leaning down next to Scales, Snowflake, and Akiddo I asked, "What are the plans for today, lovelies?"

Revilo sat next to Scales, propping his arms up on the table as Akiddo spoke up, "We are going back to Fastigium to speak with Sedris, I guess he wants an audience with us. "

It would take a half day to get there by horse after saying our goodbyes. "I might head to the great city of Fastigium," Maelin commented as I climbed onto my horse. "I heard it is quite nice there by a little student of mine who insists that the walls hold much potential." He winked at me, a grin cracking his usual stern expression.

"Wonder who told you that?" I retorted.

"Good luck, little bird. I'll see you again to continue our training. Perhaps I overlooked the usefulness of your scythe.. maybe you'll have to teach me a thing or two next time."
"Doubtful. But thank you, truly, for your time. I appreciate it. And I won't forget it."
"And I won't forget you. Now go."

I dug my heels and launched forward, galloping to meet up with the others. Akiddo was still saying goodbye to all his admirers when I got close, Revilo doing the same with the few noble ladies who wanted to call him theirs to hold. Snowflake looked like me, ready to go.

We eventually set off, vaguely wondering what Sedris had in store for us.

Left in the darkness, here on your own
Woke up a memory, feeding the pain,
You cannot deny it, there’s nothing to say,
It’s all that you need to fire away.

You can’t live without the fire, it’s the heat that makes you strong,
You were born to live and fight it all away.
You can’t hide what’s lies inside you, it’s the only thing you’ve known,

You’ll embrace it soon someday, don’t walk away.

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