A dark cloud swelled from the garden, staining the clean, white tower with its ugly black fingers. The rose petals curled inside the golden flames, becoming ash in seconds. With the wave of a mighty thunder, the outer wall collapsed revealing the red sunset.
There were a handful of people scattered in the garden. They were throwing dirt at the edge of the flames, trying to keep it from reaching the pearl castle.
The sky was swallowed by the black smoke.
A red monster stood in the garden, the flames licking its glinting muscles. The monster roared at the mighty edifice. The citizens screamed in fear, dropping their full pails of dirt as his clawed hands struck. An entire mountain of mud and flower was upturned in a single sweep and crashed down on the helpless people.
Beyond the broken wall were numerous black silhouettes against the falling sun. There was identical to the red giant in the garden, except they appeared darker, almost black.
The focus was the castle, standing angelically innocent in the heart of flame and monsters. The walls were seeping in tears, feeling every ounce of pain that cried out from its citizens.
Slowly the bricks began to swell, bleeding together. The towers began to bend and stretch unnaturally on their foundation. The tallest tower curved high into the storm clouds, a stark-white angelic creature against the black doom. It flung the clouds with a mighty shake and soon a triangle shape formed at the end. A pair of red lights glowed at the newly formed head as a dagger mouth opened. Legs, wings, and tail quickly followed and in seconds a white dragon roared a challenge at the red monster.
Instantly, her eyes snapped open. The heavy feeling of sleep lingered, but she was wide awake in the dark with her heart racing. She forced herself to stay laid down as she frantically tried to remember the last remnants of the dream. There had been fire, smoke, a castle, a white castle.
There was a sudden a flash of dagger teeth crashing down at her and she jerked up in the bed. There had definitely been a white castle. Then there had been a red giant. She combed her fingers through her hair as she fought to remember the end, the piece that she unconsciously felt was imperative to keep.
It had something to do with the castle. Everything in the dream pointed towards it.
A sudden creak and flash of light interrupted her thoughts. Throwing up her arm against the bright light's irritating glare, the young woman squinted at the figure charging into her room. She didn't need to spot the tail to know who it was.
"Good you're awake!" the girl cried as she reached the foot of the bed. "Hurry!"
There was no need to explain. She knew the moment the door had creaked that she was needed. Hitomi lurched from her bed, knocking her covers carelessly to the floor. In three huge strides, she had crossed the room to her orange and brown robes spread out on her chair. She didn't even worry about her night dress as she threw the robes over her head and passed out the door. The cat-girl was close behind, the silver candle holder tight in her hand.
The pair of soldiers waiting outside the door, politely bowed to the catwoman as she passed and Hitomi offered a hasty nod, though they had offered her no sign of respect, as she sped up into a jog down the shadowy corridor. Silently the soldiers took their place behind the pair of girls.
The air was heavy with fear and anxiety. With a pounding heart, Hitomi frantically picked up the pace, stepping out of range of the candle light and into the flickering shadows. She didn't need the light to show her the way. She had followed this path a billion times in the last weeks.
She didn't even need the candle light to find the cold metal of the door in the darkness. Once her hand closed on the golden handle and yanked it open to the private stairwell, a single cry burst into the open air.
Hitomi took the steps two at a time, her green eyes set on the handcrafted double doors at the top. Suddenly the cry grew quiet and she stumbled on the final step. A second cry broke barely a heartbeat after the silence had settled. The light caught up with her and together the two girls barreled against the doors.
Scrambling into the room, Hitomi met a familiar sight. A handful of soldiers leaning over a satin white bed, hands clutching at thrashing, tan limbs. Council members stood near the wall, looking to her anxiously.
Another, louder cry lurched from the bed and Hitomi flinched when saw a naked torso arched to the ceiling. Somehow, one of the legs escaped a knight's grasp and the youth received a smart kick in the chin. In the center of the master bed, under the Fanelian white gold seal on the headboard, laid a twenty-year old man. His face was streaked in tears and his body flushed with fever.
Hitomi wasted no more time and scurried to the bedside. Her bare feet faltered as they brushed against the edge of the gigantic red carpet, always feeling inappropriate to touch a man's, especially a king's, bed. She stared openly at him and felt her heart squeeze. His beautiful ebony hair was wild and matted to his sweaty brow. His jaw was tight once his hoarse shout faded and he threw his head aside, eyes always screwed shut.
The young woman gently guided the nearest knight aside with a firm hand and brought herself to the bed's edge. Everyone watched intently as the woman carefully crawled into the white sheets on hands and knees. The sleeping man threw his body closer to her, instinctively drawn to the woman as she fought to reach him.
Hitomi looked to no one as she pressed a gentle kiss to her pale fingertips and stretched out to his tossing face. The moment her palm covered his hot brow the man froze. Two sparks flared in unison as their minds touched. Slowly his body eased down against the mattress, his jaw relaxing.
Bowing over him, the woman silently spoke a prayer. 'Sleep without dreams. See only darkness and know only peace. Forget what you saw as you keep your eyes closed.'
Merle leaned forward unconsciously as she saw the woman closed her eyes. This would be the fourth time she had seen her do this, but this was the first time the council had been present. Since the stupid fools doubted the foreign woman's skill, Merle had made sure they would witness this important moment.
Hitomi's jaw tightened as she whispered the final words. "Let me have that which torments you. Give me your dreams. Give me your nightmares."
The sparks flared beneath her hand and the king's brow pressed hard into her palm. Images flew into her head in a painfully hot rush and Hitomi was tempted as she always was when this happened to pull away. She stubbornly leaned harder on his brow, taking each memory with bitter responsibility.
She wasn't surprise to see the same dream. There were flames and the flag of his kingdom burning in the sky. A dark haired beauty lied crumpled at the foot of the thrones. Bleeding in his seat, sat a bearded man with a crown. His eyes were lifeless and glassy like a doll. Black armored men were ransacking the room and their eyes glowed vicious red. The woman's face leaned into her mind, pleading desperately to the intruders to spare her sons.
Merle gasped as the seer turned sickly pale.
Hitomi's heart leapt into her throat when, in the dream, a sword struck down on the beautiful woman. Red covered a clean, white patch of floor. A yell burst from the small boy across the throne room. The sword was pressed hard against his neck and she could see the wild look in the captor's eyes. The boy's blood would have been spilt if the blue-haired youth hadn't come raging into room. That scant moment between life and death for the twelve-year-old was enough for the youth to kill three black armored soldiers. Reaching the center of the throne room where the fire circled, the young man cried for the boy's life to be returned.
The red soldier, the one who held the boy, laughed at the desperate plea. "And the Lord swept down like a sword of fire and cleansed the kingdom of devils."
"Folken!" the boy yelled desperately as the blade dipped into his flesh.
Hitomi pushed desperately against the image, forcing into the dark corner of her mind. Her eyes snapped opened, but her sight was blurred. If it was tears or sickness, she could not be sure. Her hand jerked away from the man's brow and carefully slid down the length of the head board. Several of the knights stood at ready to assist her or to restrain the king again. She could faintly hear the council members whispering amongst themselves and easily caught the sound of her name falling from their lips. Hitomi carefully pulled away from the now silently slumbering king and brought her bare feet to plush carpet. Glancing over to the cat-girl as her vision tilted, Hitomi realized she should never have taken her hand off the headboard.
Having lost all sense of equilibrium, Hitomi fell to the side, directly into the soldiers. She didn't even bother to grab onto them for support, but allow them to catch her. Her mind was swimming dangerously close to unconsciousness and she was frightened to let it take her. More than once it had taken her captive for days.
A pair of warm hands wiped at her face and Hitomi instinctively turned towards them. Blinking rapidly, her eyesight zeroed in Merle's scowl.
"Hitomi are you alright?" she asked urgently.
The seer's vision became unfocused again and for a single breath she felt the burning ache of the little boy's heart. Hitomi bowed her eyes away from the girl, unwilling to answer with the truth or a lie. The hands angrily ripped away from her face and Merle whirled on the council.
"This is too much!" the cat screeched, silencing their mutterings. "This is making her sick."
Determinedly, Hitomi gritted her teeth and pushed herself to her feet, but the soldiers never took their hands off her arms. Her eyes squinted against the candles in the room, focusing on the growing argument.
"She is paid adequately for her services," a council man retorted "and we give her full access to our healers and medicines."
Merle glanced to her anxiously before shouting back. "It is not fair to bring this upon another."
"Do you ask us to ignore the king?" another man replied coldly. "He has been this way for two moons now. This is the only thing that brings him any peace, both night and day."
"This will not last forever!" the cat-girl exclaimed louder. "She can't spend her entire life here!"
Hitomi stared on in silence, torn on what to say. Her fingers unconsciously slid up to her pendant, rubbing her thumb over the smooth surface.
The council looked her over for a few moments, uncertain. The first man stepped forward, pointing shamelessly at her. "She will stay until this is resolved or do you know of some better way, Lady Merle?"
Her green eyes darted to the ground as the weight grew heavier on her shoulder. Merle's eyes filled with fire, "Do not speak of her as if she is some sort of tool!"
"Let it be, Merle" Hitomi interrupted softly.
The cat-girl turned, distraught. "What?"
The Council patiently stared at the seer as she slowly lifted her chin.
"It is my choice to be here" Hitomi answered firmly, though a fraction too softly. "If needed I will stop, no matter what binding is left on me."
The small girl desperately scurried to the seer. "You cannot continue to do this. Sooner or later, you're body will give out."
Hitomi shook her head lightly. "I know, but for now I wish to bear it."
Merle nervously searched the seer's emerald eyes and seeing the determination there, the cat-girl surrendered. She quietly bowed to the woman and stepped aside as the seer walked towards the door. Merle angrily bit down on her tongue in bitter resentment as she watched the woman bow respectfully to the council all the while supported by a pair of knights.
Hitomi proudly walked out of the room, feeling their eyes upon her back. She could almost hear the rude remarks they silently slung at her, but she would not let them see her pain.
Let them think what they wanted.
Merle stared after her, a sob swelling in her throat. Hitomi had not been with them for very long and already the cat-woman felt a deep responsibility for the seer's well-being.
It had been nearly a full moon since Hitomi had first stepped into the throne room, draped in her foreign tan and orange robes that resembled those of the monks' from Freid. The council had been very stand offish to the strange seer from the Mystic Valley, going at great lengths to avoid any contact with her. The girl wasn't stupid and it had been painfully obvious that the young woman was nervous at her first appearance in the castle when she fidgeted with her boyishly-short hair and red pendant.
There had been rumors circulating about the Mystic Valley's citizens for decades. Once the king of Fanelia had become plagued by nightmares that kept the kingdom awake at night and superstitiously afraid during the day, the council had looked for any cure. They had been desperate by the time they had turned to the north and called upon the mystics. Twenty soldiers had been sent to the villages there, asking from house to house for help. Hitomi had been the only one to leave with them.
Appearing before the council, she had graciously offered her help, declaring she had the gift of dreams. The old men had stared at her pointedly and grudgingly agreed, calling upon Merle, the king's foster sibling, to be her keeper.
She had been more than happy to take in the anxious woman. Merle excitedly showed her around the palace, explaining its lengthy history with overly zealous narratives. The cat-girl also took the time to explain her brother's problem, pointing towards the bedchamber where he remained hidden away. Hitomi had listened quietly, taking in her surroundings with tentative eyes. She appeared to be uncomfortable with enormity of her setting, often stopping to stare at the vast rooms with disbelief. Merle giggled at the seer's gasps.
Merle, though unfamiliar with the Mystic Valley's culture, was very excited to find a new friend. She was incredibly lonely on the large green estate, minus the rare times her brother was able to escape the duties of being a king, and to find a young lady equally anxious to find a friend made the cat-girl's energy triple. At every available moment Merle was by the seer's side.
Even though she felt out of place, Hitomi quickly became comfortable in her setting, turning to the gardens' flowers when her care taker was unavailable for pleasantries. She found the castle bustling with people oddly cold, catching sight of the uneasiness in people's eyes as they watched her linger in the halls, staring at the elegant décor. She would rather have spent her private time in mediation, but she couldn't find a secluded spot away from annoying stares. The garden, at first, had appeared to be ideal, but it appeared that there was always some maid trotting by with laundry or a gardener digging through the dirt once she had sat down. She knew the castle's occupants were suspicious of her and finding every available opportunity to study her, but she was getting fed up.
She was blessed to have the cat-girl for talks else she would have felt the entire world watching her. The cat-girl didn't appear to mind of her origin. She asked questions, yes, but she didn't make her question sound intrusive. She asked about her family, what she liked to do for fun, normal everyday questions. She stayed away from the obvious differences between them, allowing her to pick the time to talk about such things. It was a welcoming relief.
Once she grew at ease with the cat-girl, Hitomi quickly opened up her culture to her. Merle had listened attentively as she explained her hair was cut short in respect of her late grandmother and her robes were traditional of priestesses and priests from the valley. She spoke of her village often, talking mostly about her brother and parents taking care of the Temple of Fortune while she was gone.
"Temple of Fortune?" Merle had inquired as they helped the cooks with supper.
"Yes" the woman had answered softly as she kneading a pound of dough. "It's quite similar to Fanelia's temple to the White Dragon God…err… Escaflowne, was it?"
Hitomi pushed her palm harder into dough as she continued, "Centuries ago, the valley was settled by the Draconians, a winged, mystical race of people. They were a sacred race blessed with surprising gifts—some were able to predict the future, to heal small wounds, influence the weather, and many other things ranging from small to miraculous. Over the centuries, the Draconians became aggressive with their skills, using them against other countries."
Merle handed the finished dough to the maid before inquiring. "How so?"
Hitomi stopped for a moment to thoughtfully stare at the ceiling. "Um… well for example, I heard of an incident when a king from the east of the valley requested the assistance of a dowser to find his lost granddaughter. The Draconian who appeared before the king refused to find the granddaughter unless he was given a dozen guymelefs."
"That's outrageous!" the cat-girl exclaimed.
"Yes" Hitomi nodded walking over to basin to wash her powdered hands. "I am ashamed to say that my ancestors were very selfish."
"That's right. My people, the Mystics as we've been called, are lengthy descendants of the Draconians."
Merle's eyes suddenly became wide as she leaned forward with a hungry smile. Hitomi smiled nervously, "What?"
"Do you have wings?" the cat-girl whispered excitedly, grabbing the girl's wet hand anxiously. "Do you!"
Hitomi smiled softly and gentle tugged her hand away. "No one in the last eight generations has seen wings."
The seer never noticed how the cat-girl's shoulders slumped.
"Oh" the girl mumbled disappointedly.
Not hearing her, the seer continued, "The Draconians were struck down finally one day. They were so vain and power hungry they tried to make themselves as powerful as gods and attempted to control things they shouldn't have."
The cat's ears pricked up.
"Like what?" she gasped.
Hitomi drifted towards the back door of the kitchen and opened it to the warm garden. Hastily washing her own hands, Merle followed.
"Most of them were things never done" the seer answered quietly as she passed down the rows of flowers. "I heard of one bringing the dead back from the dead. Another tried to control time. It wasn't long before they became so hungry for control that tore down the god they worshipped."
A chill ran up the cat's spine as the seer's voice dropped, "That's when Atlantis was destroyed. A great fire erupted in the capital of the valley and before anyone could blink it was gone. My ancestors had failed to honor their gifts from the gods and thus, were punished."
"That's such a sad story" Merle whispered, her tail dragging.
"It is" Hitomi agreed softly as she bent to smell a rose, "But my people believe that we have favored once again with God because more and more babies are born with miraculous gifts."
"Like your power to take away dreams?" Merle interrupted. Her cat eyes narrowed on the seer as she flinched.
"Yes" Hitomi replied a little too firmly for the cat's taste, "Like my gift to take dreams."
The seer quickly turned her back on the girl and Merle hurried to reply.
"But I see that also as a curse" Merle exclaimed to the woman's back, stopping the seer. "I've seen what it does to you. To take away his nightmares you must suffer them."
"It is my way of paying for my people's dishonor" Hitomi replied over her shoulder. "God is willing to give us what He first gave, but now we must honor them by accepting the pain. I like to see it as a way of keeping us from using our powers for wrong. God has given me the strength to bear the pain because it is for the good of others."
She turned to stare at the cat. "That is also why I continue to go take the dreams from your king because God wants me to use this power to help."
"Surely your God did not want you to suffer so" Merle insisted.
"Our wingless backs are proof enough of what we must sacrifice" Hitomi whispered. "We must remember our dishonor. I will continue to tend to your king until God no longer wants me here."
Merle stood fixed to the ground as the seer walked stiffly towards the lone brick path at the end of the garden. She didn't dare challenge the woman's passion for her faith, but she felt so desperate to shield her from any further torment.