Drawn to Flame

I find admiration in a moth, whose stupidity in throwing itself into a flame is often mocked and criticized. But, I beg to differ, for I don’t see fire as a symbol for the fiery pits of hell. Besides, I know a moth, and I admire him.

He is always allowing his sparks of imagination to roar into a flame, and despite his fruitless flutters he will dance to the the light, allowing himself to be consumed and burnt though somehow, make a legacy out of the crisps of hardships.

So I thought, if I am drawn to a moth, am I not also drawn to the fiery fires of ambition and dreams by the transitive property?

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XXI. The Monster

Soulran wasn’t sure what to make of his childhood. It was almost like a yam, the rotten kinds, where parts were still edible but some green with mould: the lack of unity in it made it all the more miserable since there was the hope that it could have been perfect, but it’s still thrown away.

Soulran wasn’t thrown away, though. In fact, there were a lot of happy times, like when father gave him a pretty ring after Her Majesty slapped him for accidentally calling her “mother.” Or, how his father always made time for him, telling him stories and making him almost feel like he was more important than the empire.

But, Soulran doesn’t like to bother his father since he’s still busy. Plus he would never explain who his mother is (or why Her Majesty is always so crossed and wouldn’t let Lyra to play with him), and would always grow so grim whenever the boy inquires, until Soulran made up his mind to beg for forgiveness. Then the Emperor would feel bad and be all kind again. The boy was left to Her Majesty’s devices, and he really wanted to know why she hated him so much so he could stop offending her.

One day, Soulran dropped by the Empress’s wing to bid the customary good evening. She excused him with a lazy wave of her hand, though changed her mind as he crossed the threshold.

“Soulran,” She said with her rigid regality. “Would you mind leaving Leo” — for that was the name of his servant — “with me today?”

Of course, the boy was so happy that Her Majesty deigned to ask him for anything, so he nodded enthusiastically; Leo, however, had his consternation.

“You Majesty, I must go arrange for someone to accompany My Lord –”

“ –No, I am sure that Soulran would be fine to roam on his own,” She rested her head upon her hand as she turned to the boy. “Doesn’t Mentor Sariel always said that you exceed the talents of the late King Lucem (may his poor soul rest in peace) and his cursed queen?”

Soulran never heard much about either of those people beyond the common gossips, but deduced that it was a compliment, to which he was ecstatic, “I will be fine on my own, Your Majesty!” With that he bounded out of the room, pausing only as he caught the Empress’s sigh.

“Good riddance.”

Soulran was devastated: he sincerely thought she actually trusted him. Out of an unjustified hope of Leo speaking up for him, he hid on the sides of the door to listen.

He was disappointed, since the servant valued his life a little more than his friendship with the boy.

The Empress continued, “Was why can’t that little vermin just die?”

Soulran suppressed the urge to cry as Leo finally spoke, “The boy is quite innocent of being born, Your Majesty.”

“Well, so am I! Who dictated so that I have to suffer through all this? We’ve already been over this, Leo: I need a son.”

“Remember, Sapphira, your jealousy only repels His Majesty.”

“If you are in my position, then you would have been the same: every day that worm grows more and more smug. You would know, how much attention that bastard wasted upon the pest: His Ignorance didn’t even know his daughter, my daughter’s name until she turned one. He spends more time with that boy than with me!” She paused, presumably to fan herself in pity. “I hate that little parasite so much, so much that I dreamt of plucking his toes and fingers off and gouging out those eyes — those exact same eyes as that cursed Priestess — and have his puny little head crus–”

–Soulran couldn’t stand it anymore. He ran, not minding whether if Leo or the Empress heard him or where he ran to. He ran and ran and ran out of the wing, out of the palace, until he couldn’t breath so he just walked, upset with the world.

Eventually he tired and curled up against a tree as he finally broke out sobbing. It wasn’t his fault that father decides to pay more attention to him. How could anyone say such things? What can he do? He doesn’t want the Empress to kill him…

He was so caught up in his distress that he did not notice the purring of a preying predator until a branch snapped above him. He looked up, only to meet cold feline eyes amidst fine obsidian coating rippling muscles that nearly distracted from the powerful jaws and fangs and claws digging into the bark of the tree as its back reared, preparing for a deathly pounce.

Soulran attempted to run away, but the beast was faster, landing before him and blocking off his escape. He recall a spell to summon roots to tie down the beast; still, its wild struggle and scratches caught his leg as he scrambled backward, slicing his left calf.

It burnt so much when he finally got up on his feet, he couldn’t bear to run! So he had to limp along, constantly looking over his shoulder in pure horror as the creature snapped each root by root, agitation only aggravating hunger. And by the time he put in a good distance between him and the beast, it already broke free. Soulran attempted to repeat his luck, but the creature dodged, closing in upon him with a few mighty leaps while the boy futilely staggered along. Then he was paralyzed with fear and the unbearable sting of the beast’s claw tearing down his back. Out of desperation, he conjured a ball of fire and dashed it haphazardly at the animal. It hissed and sprung back briefly but was mostly unscorched.

How did it come to this? Everything hurts so much that he can’t even move, his fingers digging into the warm earth under him and grasping at the tufts of grass as though any of that could help him. Still he could hear the creature approaching. He squeezed his eyes shut and wished for a quick death.

He heard the beast roar, a crunch, followed by a thud and a gentle grip that lifted him into safety, “Soulran, child, look at me.”

He managed to cry out, “Papa,” before bursting into tears out of relief and pain; the Emperor inspected the oozing wounds to find that they weren’t fatal and applied a simple spell to staunch the blood.

“Shhhh…it’s okay now…” Soulran was disoriented from all the pain and gruesomely broken body of the beast in a spreading pool of scarlet watering the earth. “Why are you here alone?”

Soulran tried to tell him everything, but choked on his tears instead. The Emperor merely studied him and understood, squeezing the boy briefly in his arms before taking the child back to the safety of the palace, excusing the nervous servants to send for the court physician and shunning the useless guards with his cold ignorance.

That night, the Emperor visited the boy’s to fret over his injuries, and after Soulran assured him that he is fine, Luctus seated himself on the edge of the bed and was deep in thought.

“You know, I was almost mauled to death by a wild beast when I was a boy, too…”

Soulran was delighted as the musing tone suggested story time, “What happened? Who saved you?”

“Who saved me?” Luctus looked down at his hands as he seemed to be extracting the name from the creased silk. “It doesn’t matter: you ought to rest.”

Soulran would have pressed for more had him not be too sore. So he opted for snuggling against the blanket Luctus tucked him in and muttered, “Thank you…for saving me, papa.”

The man merely smiled, “You were very brave, I was very proud of you.”

The moment he rested a hand upon Soulran’s head, the boy couldn’t control his urge to cry.

“What’s wrong?”

“…Nothing…I am just tired…”

“You silly, people don’t just cry because they are tired: why are you still scared? The beast is no more…” Luctus stumbled upon the answer after some thought. “Oh…don’t worry, Soulran, Her Majesty will never be able to hurt you.” With that and a kiss on the forehead, the boy submitted to sleep.

 

XX. Pretty Trinket

At this point, Eleanor could not hear anything but the wood breaking in the flames. She attempted to reach out to Sirius, but cannot: not a thing was valuable enough to strike another deal, the voice was not tempted after taking decades of her lifetime when she used her power earlier. She remembered that she was still holding Cephas, his paling face resting against her shoulder, eyes struggling to not yield against the weights death placed upon his lids.

Then she felt it, a searing heat right below the midst of her collarbone. She winced, a hand shooting to the irritated area to find a forgotten trinket: she drew out the pendant from its chain, the jadeite seemingly innocent of any peculiarity until she laid it in her hand, when its unusual warmth gave her an illusion of the stone smoldering like the world about her.

She was about to drop the pendant when Cephas unexpectedly placed a hand against hers in holding it. Then all the sudden, the heat died out to be replaced with a relieving coolness that increased in intensity until it became altogether bitingly cold.

“Cephas…?”

A cool breath, so wintry in comparison to the fires around them encased the two, and Eleanor could not help but shiver at the sudden change. The sigh of air took up vigor and circled, spinning and twisting until it howled, forming a cocoon that withstood even when the wooden complex gave way to the inferno.

Among the chaos, Eleanor found herself wondering again: it wasn’t her power but something grander, that took hold of her consciousness and drew her into yet another memory.

XIX. Night’s Visitor

Morgain did not know what to make of this new world, but it was as though the God she nearly deemed negligent recompenses: she found that she came to a world not entirely different from her home, for it still harbor enough energies within the atmosphere for simple spells, and the language was familiar. Another miracle was that she found herself under the wings of a couple wealthy enough to care for a stranger they found unconscious on some corner of the road, but not affluent enough to patronize. For, as soon as she was well enough she was determined to set out against the world, though the woman forcefully insisted for her stay after learning that Morgain knew not even a soul in proximity. The woman, who Morgain had come to know as Veronica, only found greater justification as she learned that her guest was with child.

“At least for a year, my dear,” She took her hand gingerly and with a bright smile that drew crow’s feet about her excited eyes. “God forbid your stubbornness should harm the child.”

So, Morgain gave in and attempted to distract herself from memories though to no prevail as she spent most nights sleepless, dreading that if she should fall asleep she would see it all again, the devil, her father and…Lucem…When sleep eventually conquered her exhausted body, she only woke from her stupor covered in cold sweat and painful remembrances. She did not know how time passed, or if it passed at all.

Still, Veronica seemed to pretend oblivion, for which Morgain was thankful, while Veronica’s husband did not seem to be too pristine of an observer. And, Morgain eventually recovered a patch of home from local herbs similar enough to behave in synonymy with some of the plants she knew, returning a fraction of the couple’s goodness on an occasion when she saved Veronica from a severe cold with one of her concoctions. From then on, she was revered, despite her chagrin, as a gifted apothecary.

Her development of friendship with Veronica accompanied the growth of her child, and with more joy than dread the days crept by much faster now, most of which spent in cultivating her mind alongside her little plot of earth. Finding company in the couple, the neighbors, blind worms and preying birds, Morgain told herself that she was as blessed and happy as she could be.

*******

Luctus knew something was wrong.

Despite the Old Priest’s efforts, it only took him a little over a year to find Morgain within the web of existence. Still, he was not able to do much, for that careful woman had measures against him, talismans hardly enough to qualify as major hindrances…And there was that inexplicable force biased against him, gravitating him away from any proximity to even the park she was residing in, repelling him, protecting her…

…Until a midnight.

It was as though the spell became undone: Luctus, for the first in a very long time, felt his throat ran dry and tasted the unfamiliar gall of dread. What happened? The talismans had lost their stings, the unknown force replaced with withdrawn silence…He had to investigate.

When he arrived upon the grounds, he knew, yet he was unbelieving.

In the cover of the night he slipped past the small park to the back doors, pausing in his path to note a patch of herbs out of its elements, a beacon in the darkness as a distant remembrance of laughter at his youngest brother’s propensity to mix up all the names of the herbs worth knowing. He always insisted in replacing their names with new ones that altered everyday: perhaps he merely fell into the inherent ailment of men with their earliest ancestor doing nothing but naming objects?

Oh Lucius…

Luctus went on to intrude upon the household, a building so impoverished to the point that there were no servants waiting at the door: he merely went past it and ascended a series of stairs.

Then he found her.

She was surrounded by the peasant filths claiming to be her friends. The woman knelt by the bed, her dirty hands clasped about porcelain ones, her thin shoulders shaking subtly. The man stood as though just to obscure Luctus’s vision with his arms crossed.

Not only were the peasants dumb, they were blind to his presence. As he drew closer to the room, he finally saw a glimpse of her face, pale and petrified in its perfect frame of long locks in stark contrast against the white sheets and cushions, her full lips parted, her last sigh frozen.

The man turned around, and Luctus saw then the author of the greatest of all miseries tugged in a cocoon of warmth in the man’s arms, fast asleep. At this point, the woman’s sobbing had become unbearably annoying, and the man have fully noticed the intruder. He cried out, and demanded for him to state his name. The woman took a break from her useless musings to face the stranger, sorrows briefly replaced with confusion and fright. Luctus did not think it necessary to declare himself, for he rid himself of their company with a simple spell, and they both crumbled to the floor in silence.

Useless, all of them, useless and hypocritical: if they so cared for her life, then why did they not find a physician? They were as guilty as the bundled creature, who now coohed softly in protest for the disturbance. And, to his greatest surprise, it merely wormed in its wrap, struggling in the dead man’s arms without bursting into a mess of slobbering snot.

Luctus did not know what propelled him, but he stooped and reached out for the child, who did not understand and coohed some more, a little hand freed from the bundle to flail favorably at the stranger. The same inexplicable motivation prompted him to pick up the little thing, wrenching it out of hands’ lingering warmth and bringing it under closer inspection.

It was merely a week old, maybe less, wrinkly, warm, and…so fragile. He could have easily snapped its little neck with a pinch, yet…From the corner of his eyes he once again glanced over her shrouded in an ethereal perfection reserved for death. He returned his full attention to the infant in his arms. He remembered overhearing her mind as she insisted upon the name even when that stupid peasant woman laughed at her…Luctus had to admit that he liked the sound of it, too, the way it seemed to play upon optimism. If only he could remember…was it Serin? Sarriel?…Oh, it was Soulran.

With that, he decided.

And just like how he came in the faithful cover of the night, he left, taking with him the last kin to light.

XVIII. Inferno

Eleanor sank deeper and deeper into the narrative, the strings of jealousy and obsession weaving it all, the coronation, the unfolding of the plots, the rape, the murders with an archaic world of wars and sorcery in the backdrop…yet the tapestry was dotted with incoherences where, she assumed, the flawed protagonist was so in tune to his inner darkness that it was no longer merely within, but rather his very existence. Eventually it all became consumed by the darkness: the Fallen ascended a throne again.

She did not dare to stir the pages of recent years soaked in darkness for fear that she should be more affected. So, her hands moved on their own to grasp the tangled strings before her, maneuvering this mind twisted by unchecked pride and lust that unthreaded the cloth into a discord web of perpetual envy. As she worked she grew infinitely cold, and a legion of voices rebuked her; never before had she felt fear so distilled within her entire being, and she quavered from her task.

What do you think you are doing, child? She did not answer, since she knew the voice knew. How…brave of you. Many eyes inspected her and sought to see through her being, yet they cannot. So, this is a Crisiota.

At the same time, she searched for her brother and found his mind, sick with worry and confusion in his company of the children from that night presumably assigned as his guide by Cephas. Sirius, he was pleasantly surprised to hear her voice, though puzzled that it was within his head. Sirius, you must listen to me and do as I say…He submitted his absolute attention. Now…She explained her haphazard plan and encouraged him, and the little boy merely indicated that he understood.

Oh, such a wonderful sister to have so much faith in her little brother…do you really believe a mere lad can control his powers to such precision? She did not permit the voices to disturb her original objective as she upset LaLauren’s conscious just briefly enough to stun him with haunting visions of nostalgia, and as he grappled with reality and pasts, she returned to herself to snatch the fallen torch from dying into embers. Her abused wrists burnt at her negligence as she strained to retrieve the torch, reviving the blaze with gentle breaths and without hesitation dashed the fire against the closest wooden pillar.

Flowers of flames blossomed within a blink of the eye: wooden beam cried out as petals ripped and multiplied in a violent burgeoning of suffocating heat.

The Fallen recollected his distraught host and beheld his predicament with unbelieving rage, snapping around to face the author of his doom, his eyes wild with wrath.

“How…dare you.”

Eleanor remained motionless, returning the glare with feigned serenity while the world around her burnt, the creaks and cracks of the wood devolved to cackle walking the edge of sanity.

In a sudden burst, the deranged man charged at her, the dull glint of a scarlet blade raised. Sirius, now!

The air before her screeched as it tore open, collapsing paradoxes followed the burning beam that fell into existence, crushing the Fallen in a mighty crash. Eleanor made out a horrible cry amidst the chaos while the wooden cackle amplified, for their victim deserved no sympathy.

As the dusts and embers began to clear, Eleanor attempted to ignore the smell of seared flesh and gathered a voice, thinned and nearly unrecognizable in its plea, “Ce-Cephas…save me…”

She watched in stupefied horror as the summoned servant staggered to his feet from his feeble state, a shaking shadow in the smothering smokes. “Cephas, what are you doing!?” He must have been deaf to her as he made his way to his master, who was trapped under the burnt beam from the waist down. “Ceph…as…hurry up…” Eleanor thought that Cephas was controlled by the man, so she was about to reach out from her conscious again until she saw that he stooped next to the Fallen, a dull red glint in his hand as he raised it and brought it down. A slick sound of blade against flesh and one last hushed curse later, it was finished.

Cephas fell backward against the wall, tempted by the whispered promise of a peaceful stupor and relief, but Eleanor’s gasps for breath in her slow strangulation by the smokes deprived him of any rest. Still, he was chained down by fatigue, the melodic voices accompanying sweet visions of death, ever so beautiful. The strain of his last exercise paralyzed him with new pains: the fears and uncertainties that drove his survival and numbed his abuses gave way to relief, an emotion so longed after that it disappointed him when he got it for once. Relief was hardly strong enough to keep him upon his feet, so he half staggered, half dragged himself to her, attempting without success to undo her bonds.

“Cephas…” He had to stop working for he could not even see his own hands beyond blurs, even her delicate face and kind eyes became mirages shivering in and out of the shadows and firelight.

He blinked hard, frowned, but to no effect.

It was as though she sensed his helplessness as she put a hand upon his. For a split second as he looked up he saw clearly into her unspoken lament, and he agreed after he gave another jab at the locks with the pick, relenting, at last to the inevitable embrace of death.

Oh, the irony, that they should be burnt to death by the fire that freed them from their fiery demon.

With a sudden brashness not unprecedented, she drew him into her arms. It was only then, as his head slumped against her shoulder, that he noticed that she was shaking, weeping in suppressed sobs. What was she but a noble child, horrified by the prospect of her violent end? His sympathy held rancor derived from a jealousy for her privileged upbringing, but her words only shamed him for even harboring such thoughts.

“I-I am sorry…I’ve a-associated you with all of th-this…I…”

He cupped her tear-stained cheeks and brushed the streams aside in silent acquiescence: it was not her who associated him, but rather the opposition. He could not imagine that he would end this way, that someone should mourn for him, that someone…can he pretend that she loved him?

He supposed, she would be the first and last to do so anyway.

XVII. The Best of Friends

Lerim never knew that he was capable of being displeased to see his daughter at the door of his humble abode on the less explored shores of the empire until this day, when he found her behind a series of frantic knocking borderlining impropriety as they did not cease their assault upon the slab of mahogany despite his heeding for his slow arrival. Her unusual rudeness was not the subject of the his displeasure, however: it was the way she decided to startle his old heart with a look so miserable that he could hardly recognize her, and he was ready to knock the head off of that son-in-law of his for permitting (or even causing!) such suffering to befall his dearest.

“Pa,” she started.

“Come inside, child, you are stupidly cold.”

In fact, he suspected that she caught a fever, for even under the grueling sun and the everlasting stretch of clear skies, she shivered violently.

So, she did: the lack of a witty retort tryst Lerim’s heart once more. As her father bolted the door, Morgain recollected enough courage to structure her tale from the arrangement of furnitures and decor that remained unchanged since childhood, a time when more were playmates than killed or killing.

“Lucem is dead.”

Lerim thought his own mind must have been too rusted, but dared not to beg her to repeat the phrase, “Oh, child…”

“…I killed him…No, it wasn’t me, it was…Luctus killed him thr-through my hands…that monster broke the oath and contracted th-the Fallen with his youngest brother’s blood…w-we didn’t think it was possible…” She stretched out her hands before her, examining them as though the lines were notes for the narrative she painstakingly constructed during her fare home but was falling apart nonetheless. “I…save me, pa, save me…”

He could only soothe her in his embrace as secrets of unspoken sorrows threatened to tear her apart, though the constant reminder of the last bit of hope she now carried in her womb made her try to weep, for an agony that makes one tear is not hopeless, while one that makes the victim silent and solemn is incurable. He saw and understood.

“You’ve gone through too much, child,” And yet, he knew there would be more: for if the Fallen should be awakened, the entire empire, no, the world, would burn.

Luckily, he knew what to do, and he relayed his plans to her to comfort: if they were to escape to a wholly different dimension, they would be safe from the Fallen. Let this world burn, since there existed nothing else to love anyway. She was too fatigued to realize the price of such a course of action to argue against it.

So they carried out the plan. The assembly of materials for the ambitious spell only took four days. By then, two news had struck Lerim in his hermit perch; one in much better favor than the other.

First, the flames had consumed the empire and tortured it, for their beloved former prince, commander, and King of Amzra was dead, killed in cold blood by the love of his life (a surprisingly accurate assumption for gossips). All wept for the tragedy, though more sought to dramatize it to taunt youngsters into reevaluating their notions of romance since even the symbols of the purest of loves between the handsomest creatures of the empire ended in such violence. Of course, after the weeping for broken dreams and idealization came calls for justice, to kill the siren in the guise of a Priestess.

Lerim knew that they had not much time before angry citizens march into the wild to find his shelter to demand for his daughter’s execution.

Second, Lerim also knew that he was to be a grandfather. Morgain could no longer hide her nausea from the potions for this spell, and her inexplicable extend of sloth and the increasing number of times her hand shot up to massage her temples each day spoke volumes of her fertility. He questioned her directly one night after she emptied her stomach of yet another meal into a basin, and she admitted a bittersweet congratulation that only strengthened Lerim of his will to complete the spell…

…If only the God Most High wove their lives a happier web.

By and by the preparation was finished. Lerim wasted a night more to wait for a clearer voice from Him, and He affirmed the Old Priest’s purpose. So, Lerim woke his daughter from one of her dozes, gathering her pack of essential belongings and gave her one last embrace before he began the ritual. She was cheated into thinking that he was going with her, for her inexperience did not reckon with the complexity of interdimensional travels: the key component is the human spirit, for which was his privilege to provide. Afterall, even his afterlife seemed so insignificant next to the survival of his dearest girl. Still, he was selfish…

By the time the spell took its course and began to vibrate against the surface of reality, Morgain realized his intentions. A look of horror overcame her face and broke his heart as she found his gaze fixed upon the back of his palm, outstretched to call forth the last stage of the enchantment, rising branches of the infinite parallels that divided the worlds now began to divide the father and daughter. She yelled at him, cursing his lies and slyness through her tears until the roars of the colliding worlds drowned her out, and a safer world took her while he smiled, content that at last, the last time he should hear of her can actually resemble the times when she was without a worry, teasing him with that sharp tongue of hers as though they were the best of friends.

Not as though…since they were.

As sudden as it burst open, the tear in the fabric of existence snapped shut, and Lerim was alone in his humble abode once more. He fell to his knees in a prayer he never got up from: there was no amen to end it, but merely a silent affirmative as he yielded his spirit.

Unbeknownst to him was that the rumble in space and time woke the Fallen, and he merely tightened his grip upon his contracted to fall deeper into the darkness within.

XVI. Tenebrism

She was jolted awake in utter darkness at a grip on her shoulder, and before she could scream, a voice soothed her nerves.
“Shh…it’s me,” Cephas’s whisper against her ear as he worked on the chains about her limbs. “Be still now.”
Are they in the dark dungeon the head servant described? She was disrupted from that thought as the smell of decay made her gag. Yet, she was too scared to hurry Cephas in his work.
“Are you alright?” He freed one of her hand and felt for the other, allowing her to feel for the first time how sore yet numbed she was.
“Yes, thank you.”
He did not speak again until she was freed and lifted to her feet, “Can you walk?”
She wanted to give an affirmative, but her legs melted and she leaned heavily against him.
He apologized and swept her off of her feet. For a split second, Eleanor indulged in the safety of being carried, her head, heavy with worries in the putrid atmosphere, rested against his shoulder. Then she remembered Sirius and the face of the beast, a cold grip upon her heart that made her shiver.

“Don’t worry, your brother is safe,” Cephas whispered as they passed a torch, flickering flames indecisive about whether if it should provide more shadow or light.

“Thank you,” she sighed, unwilling to think too much of the bizarre phenomenons that haunted her stay, and whether if the situation would necessitate her power.

The thought made the weight of her head all the more unbearable.

Then they passed wooden skeletons of the building and winding passages, though they snapped to a stop as they turned a corridor, and Cephas ducked back to the cover of the turn and cursed, “He’s here.”

She heard the approaching footsteps, too, clacks the pace of an unlikely leisurely stroll in a rotting prison, “Is there not another exit?” His silence answered her, and her hands clamped tighter upon the crook of his neck.

She noticed that, he too, was trembling despite his best efforts to hide it.

Eventually, he decided to retrace their steps to distance themselves from their doom. The slow pace of the footsteps did not stop it from growing louder, closer, and when Eleanor dared to look back over Cephas’s shoulder, she nearly expected LaLauren directly behind them. Instead, she faced a solid wall of darkness, the torches finally decided to succumb to the shadows. They raced against the devouring abyss, blades of cold winds massacring each indecisive lights they passed.

They reached the door of her cell at the end of the hall, and the footsteps also stopped.

Cephas set her back to the ground as per her request as their flight was terminated, and she strained to keep her sluggish head afloat.

And as though to thwart her attempt, the abyss consumed them, the last light extinguished and giving in to the complete gloom. She sought for Cephas’s hand and found it, warm against the wintry uncertainty. She relied upon her companion’s arm in her blind horror.

“Do you dare to defy me again, Cephas?” A question spoke direction into existence. “Has this lass infected you with her idiocy?”

The questions were followed by a blast of cold air that knocked Eleanor off of her feet and robbed her of her only sense of safety, “Cephas!”

A strong grip answered, overpowering her struggles and shackling her to a wall, “I should deal with you later, Eleanor, there are still use of you yet.” She could hardly draw the connection between the harsh tone with the same that comforted her heart crossed in love merely days before.

LaLauren went on to address his rebellious servant. “Cephas, did I not warn you?” Eleanor pulled against her restraints with all her might, though the effort only made her breathlessly desperate. “What did I say? ‘If you dare to help the two, I will make sure you can’t play your violin again.’ It seems that you do not value your crafts as much as I imagined.”

There was a sound of a scuffle that ended with a dull thud followed by scattered crunches inspiring an agonized scream.

“Cephas!” The cuffs torn the skin of her wrists with its gritty surface as she pulled too hard against it. Her blindness in the dark somehow managed to worsen with her indignant tears, and she could only make out his soft pants that sounded impossibly far away.

Then the voice startled her with its sudden proximity, so close as though she could spit into its owner’s face if she dared, “Now, now, Eleanor, promise to tell me several things so no one needs to be harmed…more than they are now.”

“Wh-what on earth do you want to know? What are you?”

“I only asked you to answer, Eleanor.”

“What d-do you want to know?”

“Where is the seal?”

Her heart skipped a beat, “I don’t know.”

“Are you sure?”

“I really never heard of–”

The multitude of joints being crushed as LaLauren repeated his destruction upon the violinist’s left hand was the harbinger to another cry, though this time partly muffled by gritted teeth and bloodied lips.

“No!”

“I don’t enjoy repeating myself, Eleanor.”

The seal, he must mean the seal. But who was she to tell an enemy, defying her mother’s warning at the expense of a servant she met less than a month ago? Before her in the darkness her mother’s stern form materialized beside…him. She made a decision, the right one, yet there was a bitter taste in her mouth.

“I-I will tell…please don’t hurt him anymore…”

“Oh?” A gloved hand took her by the chin and tilted her face up to look at more uniform darkness, though she froze as the cruel gaze of the monster need not be seen to be felt. “Pray tell, then.”

That second, she dared and spat at him. Consequently, a blow fell heavy across her face, her teeth collided with the insides of her cheek and washed away bitter guilt with the salty iron of blood.

“Your foolishness blinds me from any reasons for sparing you, Eleanor, ” Before she could argue, a grip seized her throat and wrung the breath out of her.

She wheezed, kicked, and strained against her shackles until blood trickled down her arms, still she could not even gain a gasp of air as her eyes blurred and she mistook the light from a revived torch for an ethereal entrance until the grip suddenly released her.

Her face would have planted into the cold stone floors had it not been her chains, though the sharp pain by which her weight relied upon her inflamed wrists made her wince. Retching and coughing, Eleanor made out the outlines of Cephas’s frame, creases in his shirt intensified by the beacon in his unscathed hand. LaLauren’s features were sharpened by the torch and scorn as he examined an injury upon his forearm, a scorched patch presumably authored by Cephas.

“Now, now, Cephas,” LaLauren smiled. “Was poor James not enough?”

“No…no more of this…please…” The light wavered.

“You seemed confused, Eleanor, I don’t blame you,” She hated the notion that the man addressed her directly to the point that she hated her name, but that only prompted him to continue. “Should I tell you how your Cephas killed poor little Jimmy, and how the boy fell to his miserable end? Did you already forget, Eleanor?”

“Don’t listen to him!”

“And your immediate denial only strengthen my words…how could you, Cephas, the boy looked up to you so much.”

“…No…stop…” Cephas made the ruinous mistake of allowing a split second of neglect derived from guilt, which LaLauren seized to his advantage; stepping forward and dodging a haphazard strike from Cephas, his fist colliding against an old wound, splitting it while he drew out a blade, sinking it between his ribs.

“Cephas!”

The lamp met the floor as LaLauren drew out the dagger, watching with suppressed delight as Cephas groveled to pain and blood loss, winded and broken too many times. He gasped, groaned, his lids heavy and half closed against increasingly vacant eyes as though to invite death. The monster stooped to inspect misery, “Oh, if only you would listen.”

“Get away from him, you sickly goblin!” Eleanor screamed: I have to do something…I have to stop him…the only solution came to her.

Her ability.

But, can she afford the cost?

She looked on, Cephas’s perishing breaths urging her forward. She ran her tongue over the bleeding in her mouth, squeezing her eyes shut as she unleashed her power, her consciousness diving into the chasm of mystery and evil that is “LaLauren.”