The instructress' mood soured ever since her meeting with the master. The newest play session was the cruelest yet, and when it was over, Teresa was left in tears, cowering in the corner of the playroom, leaning against the wall with her side to avoid touching it with her sliced open back. The blood had stopped flowing, and the wounds were already healing, but the red hot pain lingered, driving her to the edge of insanity. The toxins that swam through her veins only made the pain worse, amplified it, made her mind swirl in confusion. Maddy had given her a larger dose of the tea, making the room appear to breathe in and out as if a living entity. Her mind raced and she felt a gushing sense of paranoia beginning to take over.
Maddy strode over to the table and placed her whip down across it. "Do you submit, slave?"
The concept sounded sweeter every time. Giving in. Accepting Maddy's dominance. Maddy stared hard at her, and Teresa cowered. It was as if the woman was the sun and she dared not look up or risk being blinded.
"You are proud, I understand that," Maddy said in a rather solemn, understanding voice. "But there is no longer any room for self-aggrandizement. Not here. Not anymore. Your only purpose now is to serve me so that I may guide you to your full potential."
Teresa remained silent for a while, and then answered: "instructress, when am I to see the master again?"
Maddy frowned at that. She paced the room, her high heel tapping loud like thunder that hurt Teresa's ears. She wondered what Maddy was thinking. Became obsessed with trying to figure that out. Even though Maddy had become an object of fear, there was a strange allure about her too. Teresa did not quite expect it. It wasn't a sexual attraction but it was a kind of strange obsession and need to please. There was something about the woman that drew on her appeal; she exuded confidence and had a powerful outwardly demeanor, her long cat-like strides a hallmark of her style. And she did look good in leather.
Maddy stopped her pacing and grew a brazen smile."I keep reminding myself that everyone has a breaking point, but I wonder with you sometimes. Perhaps one may seem unbreakable when one has already been broken..."
The instructress stared her down for a torturously long moment before moving over to the racks of tools on one side of the playroom. Teresa expected to be introduced to a new instrument of pain, but the instructress only pulled out a long chain lead instead. Maddy attached the lead to her collar then took her out of the playroom. They moved through an endless series of halls until they arrived at a set of crudely cut steps that descended down to a lower level. The descent down was long and claustrophobic. Small candles atop sconces stuck out from the walls in even intervals, lighting up the way. Upon finally reaching the bottom, they came to an immense open chamber in the shape of a dome. It looked like a temple or a tomb. The air was cold and stale and it smelt like burning candle and incense. Hundreds of candles shined from within tiny alcove slots in the walls, attended to by half a dozen slaves using tall wooden ladders. The ceiling was so high up it was almost impossible to see the end of it. The small candles up there looked like tiny twinkling stars. There was a sense of resonance to the place, as if ancient, and much larger than it actually was. Teresa's body tingled as she sensed faint otherworldly energies emanating from all over, coming from beyond the stone walls, or rather, reflecting off them as if it were self-contained.
"Welcome to the spirit sanctum, slave," Maddy said.
Teresa had no idea what that meant, but she was pretty sure she was about to find out. The slaves, upon noticing Maddy, quickly came down from their ladders, picked the ladders up over their shoulders, and hurried to take their leave.
Maddy led Teresa towards the center of the chamber, the tapping of her heels absurdly loud in this echo-filled enclosure. When they were at the center, the instructress unclipped the chain leash.
"Close your eyes, slave" Maddy said.
Teresa shut her eyes as told, unsure what to expect. She heard Maddy's high heel tap back in the direction of the entrance. And then the tapping stopped and there was absolute silence. Teresa could sense the energies of the room building up until it felt like tiny flames warming her skin from all over, making her fingers and toes tingle. The room seemed to have an amplifying effect on her powers, reflecting it back to her in a way that was normally not possible. It almost felt like being in a state of mediation, except the experience was more of an out of body one.
She thought she was alone, but then she felt a strange foreign presence engulf the space around her. Even though Maddy didn't tell her to, she opened her eyes anyway but saw nothing of significance. There was, however, a sort of warm breeze, which was odd considering this was a place deep underground. The instructress stood at the entrance in expectation for something to happen. Teresa glanced around the sanctum, at the galaxy of candles around. Something emerged out from a shadow, the vague outline of a female figure whose features seemed eerily familiar.
The figure advanced for Teresa, the candlelit chamber providing little light but revealing more of her familiar but dark features with every step she took. Her hair was dark and long and wavy, and her smile was faint and all too familiar. Teresa held back the momentary surge of unease that ran through her when she realized who and what this was.
"so pathetic. So weak. Are you really going to let a mere human do this to you?"
Teresa cast her gaze aside and did not respond. She wasn't sure whether this was really happening, or if this place was playing tricks on her mind. Or maybe Maddy's tea was making her hallucinate. But as she continued to stare at her mirror image, it became clear this was no trick.
She looked over her shoulder and noticed the instructress was still standing at the entrance of the chamber, watching on idly. Teresa wondered if she could see the awakened being too. If she could, there wasn't much of a reaction.
Awakened Teresa spared only a moment's glance at the instructress but returned her attention solely upon Teresa herself, eyes intense and scrutinizing.
"And what about sweet little Clare? You promised her you'd fix everything. You promised her you'd be together. Or was that all a sweet little lie?"
Teresa gave it no response, even when she felt the sheer weight of its stare upon her, judging her.
"What's the matter? Aren't you happy to see me?"
Teresa still gave it no response. The awakened being tried a few more times to garner her attention with taunts and insults but made sounds of disgruntlement when they did not work.
"You look deflated. Have you lost your self worth again? Hmmm. Used by the organization. Used by Miria. Used by Maddy. That's all what you're good for. Being used. You don't deserve anything. We both know its true."
The awakened smiled as if she was proud of herself. She strode around Teresa in a manner that was on the edge of being threatening, speaking in a low voice that was almost a whisper.
"Unfortunately, your failure is my failure. So i can't really have you like this. If you refuse to fight, then allow me. I will destroy this place for both of us. let us go out with a bang and not with a whimper."
Teresa still continued to ignore her, and the awakened being grew enraged. The awakened pranced around in frustration, but when it was clear there was to be no interaction, she took a step back and disappeared into the shadows, the faint smile of hers the last part to disappear.
And then there was silence. Teresa felt a profound relief that the awakened was gone. She wasn't entirely sure how to feel about the encounter, and still questioned how much of it was real or if it was all just in her head. She knew the instructress had been watching from the entrance the entire time, and Teresa wondered how much of it she saw, if anything at all. The tapping high heels echoed throughout the chamber as the instructress strolled towards her with a face of glass. if the woman did see something, she didn't seem all that visibly disturbed by the encounter. Her face was as cold and as steely as it ever. She attached the chain leash back to Teresa's collar and led her back up the steps and out of the sanctum.
Maddy did not speak the whole way back. Teresa wondered endlessly about the encounter, trying not to let it shake her. Maddy took her to a brand new playroom, told her to go in, then locked her inside. The instructress left then and Teresa did not particularly care where. She appreciated the time alone so she could process it all.
Time passed but not enough of it. The tapping of high heels came soon enough from outside the room again. Maddy returned donning a brand new leather suit that was all black but lined with silver embroidery sewed into the linings. it was just enough to bring Teresa's mind back out from that dark place. Maddy was back, and Teresa almost felt relief due to it. Teresa sat in her corner as Maddy ran her hand slowly across the rack of torture tools. Her choice always came down to one specifically - the meanest looking whip, the sight of which always managed to bring a sliver of fear with it.
"Stand when your instructress enters the room," Maddy said.
Teresa almost forgot about that rule. She stood to her feet. "Forgive me, instructress. It won't happen again."
Maddy narrowed her eyes as if she only half believed that. She placed the coiled up whip across the table then sat down on her chair, crossing one leg over the other. Despite that one reminder, Teresa found it curious how the once calm and collected instructress seemed rather speechless all of a sudden.
"Did you see it, too?" Teresa said.
Maddy had an uneasy look to her. She sank back in her seat only slightly but still maintained her firm posture. "I did, slave. The sanctum allows for such paranormal encounters to occur, though usually it takes weeks and even months for one to become attuned to it. You clearly are one of a kind."
Humanoid only in the bipedal sense, the dragonkin fought much in the same way as humans and thus shared many of the same vulnerabilities as well. They stood far taller than her but she was faster and her sword's reach was considerable. She swooped down to ambush the ambushers and they didn't even see it coming; she took out the first one cleanly and moved on to the next before the others even knew what was happening. There were twelve in total. The others raised their spears against her, but it was too late. She spared them no mercy and cut them down with a ferocity that surprised her. She killed them all quickly and stabbed her claymore into the head of the leader as he lay against the ground to finish him off. She put her boot against its skull to help pull the blade back out.
There was blood everywhere but she avoided most of it from staining her. She did not care much for these creatures and reminded herself they were merely failed experiments from the organization from long ago. She flicked the blood off her blade and was about to take to the air when something came at her from her peripheral vision. She turned and saw a thick mist coming towards her. The mist coalesced and solidified into humanoid form, into the dragon queen, Arrylys.
The dragon queen stared at her and Clare was frozen by inaction. After some time it felt like a mockery so Clare decided to make the first move. She strode confidently towards Arrylys, intending to show that she was not afraid, but those ancient blue pearls did not seem deceived by her display in the slightest. The dragon queen saw through to her fear, expressing it with a smirk of confidence.
Clare attacked Arrylys with a clean diagonal slice. Surprisingly, the dragon queen made no move to dodge the attack. There was no solid impact; the blade passed through swirling mist which then dissipated away into nothingness.
What's going on?
Arrylys was gone. Clare looked back in the direction of the academy, thinking that was Arrylys's most likely target. Clare shot for the academy as fast as she possibly could, but by the time she arrived at the white building, she could already see trails of blue mist leading into the lower lobby. Arrylys was there, moving casually towards Isley whose arm had turned into a fleshy bow with an arrow aimed straight for her. Behind Isley was Galatea with a sword in hand who stood at guard next to a still unconscious Odette.
Arrylys ignored the bow aimed at her and moved forward without fear. Isley shot multiple arrows in quick succession but all of them went harmlessly through the dragon queen's mist body.
Clare didn't care if the dragon queen was mist or not. She lunged forward and stabbed her through the back — actually hitting something solid and fleshy. There was no mist this time. Blood leaked from the wound and the dragon queen stumbled forward in hissing pain. Clare should have finished her off then but she was slow to do so, which gave Arrylys a chance to turn around and strike at her. Even unarmed, the dragon queen's long claws were formidable, but Clare made up for her mistake and cut off both arms in a single clean slice, and then swung again to remove the head. Blood pumped out from Arryly's headless body as if fell down limply to the floor, seeping and staining into the carpet.
"Clare, that's not the real one." Galatea bellowed.
Clare held her sword tightly as she examined the dead 'body' before her. It all seemed too easy. There must have been something she missed. The blood seeped into the carpet in a very real manner, dampening the soft fabric a blueish- purple. And then she saw it; an imperfection in the image where some parts of the edges became semi translucent, like a change in pressure within smoke. She kicked the body to make sure it was still real, and when she did, the body predictably dissipated into mist once more.
Clare grew frustrated, but she wasn't going to let such tricks distract her. Arrylys was most likely close by controlling these mist illusions as if they were puppets and she the puppeteer. From the way Galatea was glancing around she likely thought so too.
"Where is she?" Clare said.
Galatea did not say anything but she did look upward. Clare took that as an answer enough and she threw herself out of the nearest window and flew to the terrace at the top of the white building. When she got there, Arrylys, or at least an image of her, was there standing in the center. Mist or not, the Dragon Queen's glare was more than a little unnerving. Clare landed a couple strides behind her, careful not to get too close. Even if she had a thousand questions, Clare had no intention to ask them. She advanced for her enemy, ready to kill her again and again if need be.
"Where is Teresa?" Arrylys said.
Clare stopped only a few strides in front of her. The question almost sounded humorous at this point. "...I don't know, and if I did, I wouldn't tell you."
Arrylys stared at her, finding that most peculiar. She then looked around as her attention wandered, examining the great wall beside them. Those blue eyes soon returned upon her, and Clare was not ready for it. She did not want to admit the terror she felt at being in this being's presence.
"The organization...has taken her..." Arrylys said.
Clare did not say anything but she was pretty sure the dragon queen could tell what she was thinking just by looking at her face. Arryly's frowned, and Clare sensed she was about to leave from disappointment.
"Wait!" Clare said. "I know you hate humans, hate us, I get it, but why not direct your hatred at those that deserve it? It is the organization that kept you prisoner. They are the reason why your race is extinct. Why are you trying to destroy us when you could get your justice?"
She let it all out then, her frustrations. Perhaps her plead sounded pathetic but Arrylys did not react in a mocking manner, but not exactly how she would have liked either. The dragon queen merely stared blankly at her, and then there was a slight curve to her lips as she took a few steps closer towards Clare in a nonthreatening manner, then stopped, smirking.
"Justice..." Arrylys said, her tone a moan, "I do not seek justice. I shall extinguish your species just as mine had been extinguished"
"Revenge is a long road that leads nowhere. You are clearly proud of your history and your kind. You claim you are better than humans. "Prove it. Prove that you are better than those you condemn. Prove that you really are worthy to call yourself a Queen."
The flattery seemed to work as Arryly's face raised ever so slightly as if from a sense of pride. But it didn't last long as Arrylys barred her teeth, and lines formed across her scaly skin. Clare wasn't sure what that reaction meant but it sure looked like disgust, contempt, or something of the like."
And then, yet again, Arrylys smiled and turned into mist, dissipating away into nothingness.
She's toying with me...
Clare returned to Galatea, expecting it to be all over, but as she swooped in through the window, she felt a foreign tug on her body which ended up slightly altering the trajectory of her landing. It confused her but she was thankful for it a split second later when it was the main reason she managed to escape Arryly's flanking claws. Arrylys hadn't gone anywhere. She was back in the lobby. Arrylys went for her again, and Clare was ready.
Galatea had done what she could to help Clare against Arryly's stealth attack, but beyond that, there wasn't much else. She could only watch as Clare fought alone with the dragon queen. The lobby was a large space but it was not quite enough to contain the desperate battle. Marble stone floors were cut up and broken like plates. An entire pillar was destroyed as Clare swung and missed her attack. Galatea felt engrossed in the fight but something behind her tugged at her attention. She turned over and saw that Odette was awake, her eyes open and watching the fight. Odette attempted to tug at her bindings but the rope was too tightly wound around her. She noticed Galatea staring, and they locked eyes then. Galatea moved towards her cautiously.
"Not a good idea," Isley said.
She ignored him. Odette's face was drenched in confusion, though Galatea could tell she tried her best to remain calm.
"Blink twice if you can understand me," Galatea said.
Odette blinked in initial confusion, like someone listening to a different language, but then she blinked twice. Galatea felt a sense of relief knowing the woman seemed to be sound of mind. Another pillar shattered and fell down near them. The two of them sensed Clare's plight and knew that the odds were not in her favor. Both of them were sensory types, able to read the wavelengths and the frequencies of the energies being expelled. Even though Odette was tied up, the woman did not flinch. Her eyes darted about and were keenly aware of what was going on around her.
"What do you remember?" Galatea said.
There was confusion in Odette's glare and spoke slowly. "... why am I tied up?"
Galatea continued her line of questioning."Do you know your name?"
Odette's face sunk at that. It was obvious she didn't know the answer. The revelation was surprising to them both.
or is she pretending?
Galatea saw no lie in the woman and did not feel it either. Odette's eyes scattered about as she traced the fight.
"...If I give you a sword, can you use it?" Galatea.
When Miria and the others arrived, they tried to help, but Clare shouted them away. The Dragon Queen was too powerful for anyone else to face, and Clare could feel herself slipping from the challenge. Her opponent was simply better than her and there was no two ways around that. Arrylys was not only fast and furious but clever also. The dragon queen figured out her movements and stepped forward during a moment of imbalance to grab at her throat. The grip was ice cold and deathly strong. The next thing Clare knew, she was accelerated at high speed out of the white building and tossed onto the cold ground far away from the academy. Her neck hurt but she recovered quickly and stood on her feet, still holding on to her sword. Arrylys landed before her, the academy behind her in the distance.
Clare knew she was in trouble. She wondered if Teresa was going to swoop down and save the day again, though this time it felt unlikely.
Why aren't you here...
when I need you more than ever?
Clare put up her best fight but Arrylys eventually managed to steal her sword and use it to stab her straight through the center. Clare spat out blood as the pain and shock thrummed through her. Arrylys pulled the sword slowly out, then stabbed her again in the same place. When Arrylys attempted to stab her a third time, Clare managed to escape and put some distance between them. She bled furiously from her wound but the adrenalin within kept her going as if it was nothing.
Arrylys licked the blood off the blade as if it was a savory thing. Clare felt backed into a corner. They were in an open field but it felt like there was no where else to go. She was the strongest she had ever been, but it still wasn't enough, not against such an opponent.
Arrylys went for her again, and Clare felt it hopeless; she was disarmed and weakened. She thought it was the end were it not for someone interrupting their fight to charge at Arrylys. It was Odette. The ancient claymore was awake and released from her bonds. Clare's mind raced with way too many thoughts and questions to even begin to focus on one. Even so, she was thankful for the assist and took the time to catch her breath and regain herself. She groaned from her wounds. The blood had already clotted, stopping the bleeding, but the damage had already been done. Clare felt a surge of anger flood through her that countered the pain; Anger at herself for being weak, at Teresa for not being here, at the organization for instigating all of this. That Raki was gone.
Something made her feel the urge to look up, and when she did, she saw something purple up there, watching. Priscilla. The awakened being noticed her watching and then descended down below, landing closely with a light touch of feet.
"...So you let her out...I suppose Miria was always a gambler...I don't suppose you expect me to help too?" Priscilla said.
Clare pretended her wounds amassed to less than they actually did, and sent the awakened a keen glare. "Do whatever you want, I don't care."
Priscilla smirked. "Someone's grumpy, I suppose a near-death experience will do that."
Clare couldn't stand to hear her voice anymore, so she charged forward to assist Odette without even thinking. The ancient claymore kept the dragon queen on her heels while Clare managed to retrieve her sword from the dragon queen's grip. Clare and Odette looked at each other in shared understanding. It was strange fighting alongside someone who tried to kill you earlier in the day. Together they targeted the dragon queen from both sides, attempting to overwhelm her. But Arryly's mocking laughter made it apparent their efforts were futile. Even with Odette by her side, the two of them simply weren't strong enough. Odette managed to kick the dragon queen in the head, but not quite strong enough to land a knockout blow. Arrylys slashed out with her claws and cut them both up, spraying red about in almost beautiful archs.
Nearby, Priscilla continued to watch on indifferently. Arrylys had glanced over her a few times but other than that, did not seem to be bothered by it. Odette looked over at the awakened with cautious eyes.
"She's not the enemy right now. Ignore her." Clare said.
"Others keep telling me who my enemy is," Odette said. "It is rather tiresome."
"Yeah well, you don't exactly have the time to question me on this at the moment," Clare said, glaring at Arrylys who listened on to their conversation amusingly.
Odette nodded and they both charged at their enemy. Clare had analyzed Odette's fighting style before and used that to advantage. Arrylys was better than either of them but proper teamwork could take down any obstacle. Their claymores came awfully close to landing on their target. But they couldn't keep up the pressure. Arrylys saw an opportunity to get through their defenses and managed to cut them up good for a second time.
Arrylys charged straight for Odette, and Clare knew she had to do something. She darted forward and forced the dragon queen away with a massive downward cleave. Odette backed off, her face white from seeing certain death. Clare stood side by side with a claymore she didn't know against an impossibly powerful enemy.
Odette had fear and uncertainty in her eyes, and Clare wondered if the woman thought about fleeing. She couldn't blame her. Fleeing was the smart option especially when the fight didn't necessarily have much to do with you. But Odette did not flee. She stood her ground and seemed firm in her decision.
"Do you have a plan?" Odette said.
"Have you tried hypnotizing her yet?" Clare said.
Odette passed her a confused stare as if she had no idea what Clare was talking about.
Arrylys went for them again, but they were ready. Blades against claws didn't seem like a fair match but Arrylys was that much faster. At times Clare swore she the dragon queen had no real form at all, or that she could quickly change between being a solid or not. Both her and Odette received more nasty slashes and cuts and a mocking bout of laughter. Arryly's eyes turned cruel and she was excited, like an animal playing with her food.
And then they sensed it. Someone else approaching, and it wasn't Priscilla. To their side. Both Clare and Odette looked over to see another silver eye approach them. Relief flooded through Clare when she saw that it was Miata, who having taken the growth pill, was in her adult form. Miata and Odette stared at each other as if both were just as interested in sizing up the other than the actual fighting itself. When Miata joined in the fight, the Dragon Queen's laughter had disappeared. The three of them were too much to handle and eventually, Arrylys suffered a wound that made her scream out in pain. The next thing they knew the ground exploded and they were all tossed backward as a dust cloud surrounded the dragon queen. When the wind blew it away, Arrylys was in her massive dragon form, talons ripping into the earth as she trampled the ground, lines of blue fire lining the snout.
The dragon stared them all down and let out a roar of frustration. The sound shook the earth beneath their feet and almost left them petrified. Arrylys then took to the air and flew away, her massive wings thrumming like drums, getting softer.
"Do we chase her?" Miata said.
"No. Let her go. I think its over." Clare said.
Miata didn't seem happy about it but she complied. Odette's attention drifted to the massive wall behind the academy as if she had seen it for the first time, or again after a long time of being asleep. Clare wondered if she had planned to run away. The three of them took the time to recover and catch their breath. Odette then looked at her, and Clare remarked on the woman's sheer presentation. She was a warrior in the truest sense, but still somehow almost looking gentle with her white-gold hair swaying softly in the wind. Her eyes were silver but there was a noticeable blue hue to it.
"I don't know how you got out...but I suppose I should thank you." Clare said.
Odette gave only the slightest nod of acknowledgment.
Maddy brought her back to the sanctum, back down to that candle-lit chamber that triggered her nightmares. It was a strange thing to look at one's self and not from a mirror. Hair like hers but dark. Eyes like hers but dark. The same austere smile.
"How are you even alive?" Teresa asked. "I killed you."
"So you finally stopped playing the silent game? I was beginning to think you couldn't hear me. How am I alive you ask? I think you already know the answer to that question."
And then there was a light in the darkness. A tiny spark that grew into a great orb of beautiful light that was bright but somehow not too harsh on the eyes. A being emerged out from it, one that was made out of pure light. The opposite of the awakened being in every way. A creature of intricate beauty and endless power, with a smile that was soft and warm. A high pitched sound echoed throughout the room that was like a combination of birds singing and bells ringing. A beautiful sound that in itself was like a voice of its own, one that was of a higher realm and of a different language.
The awakened noticed the new arrival and hissed in retreat. Teresa was frozen in awe. She had no idea what was going on but the sheer presence of the creature of light drew her breath away. it was like an angel. She did not read many holy books but she had an inkling that was what this creature was. The angel looked about the room as if it sought an escape. It peered over at the doorway where Maddy watched and titled its head.
It seemed confused as if it didn't know where it was. Eventually, it came up to her and Teresa felt all her fear drain away. She felt a sense of ecstasy as the angel approached her; no fear, no pain, no expectation. Its light felt warm on her skin, and over time she felt her own energy levels rise as if she were a wilted flower being restored by the sun. Teresa saw the vague outline of a smile upon its face as the angel stood before her and reached out to touch her forehead. Teresa would have let it happen but decided to step back in rebellion.
"What are you?" Teresa asked.
The angel raised a hand again as if to make a gesture. It pointed at the center of its own chest and then pointed at the center of Teresa's own. Before she could even make sense of what that meant, the angel touched her forehead and it was gone in a burst of light. And then it was over. The dark silence of the sanctum returned.
Before Teresa could even make sense of what happened, Maddy's heels tapped against the stone floor. The instructress leashed her and took her out of the sanctum, back to the hallways above. Maddy brought her to a brand new playroom where the two remained in uncomfortable silence.
A slave arrived with a tray of tea which Teresa was forced to drink. The slave left and Maddy calmly sipped her own cup, while staring at her.
"What...was that?" Maddy said.
"I was hoping you could tell me," Teresa said.
"Creatures of darkness are known to exist but there is no such phenomenon in the records about creatures of light. You, slave, are my most monumental achievement to date."
"Is that supposed to make me feel good?" Teresa said.
"No, it's supposed to make 'me' feel good." Maddy said with a simper. "Now, you are going to tell me everything you know about that creature. And do not lie."
"What makes you think I know any more than you do?"
Maddy did not look convinced and went straight for the whip. She uncoiled the thing and Teresa found herself cowering away in abject fear of it.
"Very well then, slave. Perhaps another session will bring you to your senses."
She didn't want to feel the pain, but it was in knowing she could end this at any time that made it somehow easier to take. She almost convinced herself she truly was trapped in this situation. She awaited the inevitable thunder and shocking pain but luckily, a tap came on the door and a robed slave came in the room. The slave whispered something to the instructress and then left. Maddy coiled up the whip in disappointment placed it flat across the table.
"Saved by the master," Maddy said. "Just wait till you get back, slave."
Clare needed to find Raki. She avoided Audrey and went straight for Galatea. As soon as the words left Galatea's lips, Clare had already taken to the air and soared towards the destination. Not too far off from the wall was an unnatural tunnel which led into pitch darkness. Clare went down it without hesitation but then realized what pitch darkness actually was. She could not see anything at all, and she wondered how Riful or any other awakened beings managed to navigate through this.
But then there was some light up ahead, an organic-looking sort of orange glow. Strange fleshy blobs stuck to the walls like giant insects that emitted light from their bulbous bodies. Clare tried not to be creeped out as she passed by them. None of them moved or made any attempts to go for her. It was like each one was an offshoot of a greater whole. She moved on and felt a great pressure build. Something grabbed at her ankle and she swung her sword around at it instinctively. It was a long ribbon-like tentacle. Riful. A dozen more came out of the sides of the walls but Clare managed to cut them all apart before they could touch her.
"Riful! I'm here for Raki, and nothing more. Give him back now." Clare said.
She avoided more tentacles as she moved on through the tunnel. There were other ways that opened up but Clare always chose the straight path. Eventually, she came upon a huge underground space that was filled with hundreds upon hundreds of awakened beings, like an insect hive, all different sizes, and shapes, all staring at her with glowing neon eyes. She sensed Riful upon a large castle-like structure made from different bits of metal. Clare descended down there and saw Riful sitting at the crest of it, atop a throne.
"Give him back." Clare said.
Riful smiled cheerfully. "So demanding. I'm sure you can think of a nicer way to ask me for a favor?"
"A favor? you abducted him!" Clare said.
"I did, but only because I knew I'd get away with it. You see, I am not afraid of you. I'm not afraid of Miria. I'm not afraid of anyone, really. Well, except Teresa, she's terrifying, but now that she's gone I can sort of do what I want."
Clare thought about ending this here and now, but she did not see Raki around and that was cause for concern. She came here to save Raki, not to kill Riful. She honestly didn't even wish to try.
"At least show me he's alright. Please." Clare said.
Riful wrinkled her nose in thought, and then she smiled again playfully. A moment later, tentacles slithered out from a hole in the ground carrying Raki. Each one held him by the limb, threatening to rip him apart. His mouth was covered over by another tentacle but she could see the distress in his eyes. A surge of anger rose within Clare. She glared at Riful hatefully.
"Let him go. I won't accept anything else."
"That's all well and good but, why should I?" Riful said.
"I will kill you, Riful." Clare said.
"Perhaps, but not before I rip him limb from limb," Riful giggled. "Even with those new wings of yours...you're still not fast enough. So unless you want him to suffer horribly, I guess you're in a bit of a pickle. Hmm, I love that saying."
Clare knew Riful was right. There was no denying it. She sighed and dropped her sword. Immediately tentacles enveloped and restrained her and brought her closer to Riful and her throne. At the steps of the dias, the mass of tentacles let her go, and Clare walked up to Riful who was already on her way down. They met halfway.
"I know this is so unfair," Riful said with a long face. "I understand what it is to care about someone and be worried for their safety. I get it. But try to understand it from my point of view. If I keep Raki hostage, I get to control this entire city. So this is really the right move for me. And don't worry! I promise I won't hurt him, as long as you don't upset me. In time, I may even let him go, so it's a win-win situation for everyone.
Clare gritted her teeth. She thought of taking on the awakened with her bare fists there and then, but that won't do any good to Raki. She knew that.
"Tell Miria to leave my city alone...We should all work together to stop the dragonkin from destroying my city. That should be our number one priority."
Riful returned her sword and let her go then. Clare wanted to save Raki so badly but there was no choice but to leave. As she left the tunnel and entered the outside world again, Clare screamed her lungs out in frustration. She hated this. She hated everything that had recently happened. Hated that Teresa was gone, hated that Rak was held hostage. She had to trust the word of an awakened being with his safety and she hated that as well. She took a few minutes to gather herself, looking back at the entrance to the tunnel and wondered whether she had made a mistake in leaving him behind. Perhaps it was worth to try and save him. Or maybe not. She couldn't bare see him being ripped apart. She knew Riful wasn't bluffing.
Clare grudgingly returned to the academy, where Miria waited for her at the gates. Clare explained to her friend everything that happened and took note of the stony look upon her captain.
"I'm sorry Clare." Miria said. "I didn't want this."
"We should have killed Riful a long time ago. Keeping her around was a mistake."
Yes," Miria said, sighing. "I was naive about that in the beginning. I guess we all were."
The two of them roamed campus grounds as the afternoon sun began to set behind the mountains.
"What do we do now?" Clare said, frustrated "We can't allow the regulators in the city or Raki will die. I hate to say it but maybe Riful's right and we should focus all our attention on the dragonkin. She says she plans to honor her promise by sending her forces to help us. I don't know how truthful she is, but it seems like we have no choice."
The master awaited her in his chambers. He sat at the front of his long table, reading from a report. At hearing her enter, he looked up, put the report down, and then gestured over to one side of the room.
"Ah, Teresa. Come with me. I want to show you something." The master said.
She walked with the master through a passageway that was sleeky hidden behind a potted plant in between two bookshelves. The passageway descended into another room with a large pit in the center. There was a faint light being emitted from the bottom of the pit. Teresa moved towards the edge and looked down, and gasped at what she saw. It was a creature made from light, another angel, except this one was more animal than humanoid. It had four legs and a long snout which made it resemble a horse. It lay shackled by a mass of golden metal chains that held it down in bondage.
"They could be another form of awakened being, or something else entirely, no one really knows. I suspect they are from a better place. A higher realm."
Teresa kept her mouth closed. She sensed that the creature was at the end of its life, its singing beautiful but weak and hollowed out.
"They appear to be made entirely out of light. Ordinary materials pass right through them, but we've developed a type of cold steel with properties they cannot pass through, it's how we are able to contain them."
"Them? How many of these things do you have?" Teresa said.
"Well, at the moment, this is the only one. The other died hundreds of years ago. The light extinguished from it and that was it. Such a tragedy."
Teresa continued to stare at the poor creature at the bottom of the pit. It was suffering. She could feel its pain. The chains were hurting and draining it from its light. "It's dying," Teresa said.
"True. The steel does siphon away at their powers, that cannot be avoided. As I said, it's the only way to contain them once manifested in our world. I've conducted so many experiments. Did you know their light alone can cure almost any disease? accelerate the healing of any wound? I've been trying to replicate these powers, quite close to a breakthrough, but as you can see, my current test subject is no longer useful for research, so I require...a new one."
Teresa knew where he as going with this, but she did not say anything in reply.
"By the way, Teresa, you seem distressed. How are you feeling?" The master said.
"Like shit," Teresa said.
"Hmm, yes. The virus is doing its job. You will get another shot of the antidote soon enough, but for now...you will return to Maddy ...I have instructed her to take you to the sanctum as often as possible. I'll need you to manifest that creature of light inside you again."
"And what if the other one, the awakened one is 'manifested' instead?" Teresa said.
"neither of them can leave the sanctum, so try to ignore her. Focus on the creature of light. That is what I am interested in, and so should you."
Teresa listened to him ramble on his insane plan. The whole time she felt saddened for the angel and wanted to release it. She could hear it sing to her though she could not discern what it was trying to say.
The master dismissed her and a robed slave brought her back to Maddy. Teresa wondered if given enough time, these creatures of light could cure her of the so-called 'virus' the master had infected her with. She could still feel its effects on her. In a few hours, she would no doubt need the antidote to again. When she returned to Maddy, the instructress was waiting patiently in her seat within the playroom. Teresa felt a shiver when Maddy glared at her intensely.
The slave spoke to Maddy with a low voice and Teresa could not make out any words. The instructress shifted her stance as if irritated.
The slave left, and Maddy sat down in silence. A couple torturous minutes later, a robed slave pushing a creaky cart came in the room. Atop the cart was a tray of steaming hot tea. The slave bowed at Maddy and then left, closing the door behind, leaving Teresa alone with Maddy.
"You're going to tell me everything about your meeting with the master," Maddy said.
Odette spoke to no one except Miria, and that was only one time; briefly, and alone. No one knew exactly what was said between them, but the conversation must have gone well as Odette never left the general vicinity of the academy. But even so, Clare still had her guard up. Odette may have had silver eyes like them, but that did not mean she was one of them.
Clare found the woman staring out of a window within one of the halls and decided to talk with her. Odette paid her no mind as she approached.
"Miria says you don't remember anything." Clare said. "is that true?"
"It is..." Odette said bleakly, but then she put on an inquisitive expression as she looked at Clare, "You mentioned earlier of some hypnosis as if it was something I should be familiar with. Tell me what you meant by that."
Clare hesitated to answer that one, but Odette was giving her a no-nonsense look. Clearly, Miria and Galatea had not explained to her that part, perhaps for good reason. Clare was slow to speak and Odette grew visibly annoyed by it.
"Tell me what you know about my life. I believe I deserve that much."
Clare sighed. "A while back, you and I fought, and you used a sort of hypnosis on me. I'm sure Miria already explained the details of that fight to you."
"Why were we in conflict?"
"If you want to know more about it I think you should speak with Galatea. I don't know anything."
"I know not why, but it's clear to me you are all hiding aspects about my life. Who was I really?"
Clare debated amongst herself whether she should tell Odette the whole truth. She had seen a vision of the woman's life and saw how she had fallen in love with someone who to this day remained perked atop a distant mountain, still waiting to be reunited. Both Miria and Galatea had been very strict about keeping that part a secret. Clare did not think it was fair to keep someone's identity hidden from them, but when it came to Odette and her controversial past, it was probably better that way. Even Marcus, who had been around during her time, seemed hesitant even being close to her. Though, at times, Clare had noticed him staring at Odette adoringly. The woman had a fierce beauty to her, and she radiated competence and confidence even despite her situation.
"I know life sometimes doesn't seem fair," Clare said, sinking her head. I recently lost someone very special to me, and I don't know if I'm ever going to get him back. It sucks because there's nothing I can do about it. Nothing at all..."
Odette's gaze went low, clearly thinking about that, relating, somehow, even without any memories. Clare continued on:
"My best friend keeps secrets from me. She disappears constantly without telling me a word. I know her justifications for it, and I don't accept them, but I have no say in it."
"What is your name?" Odette asked.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I should have started with that. Clare. My name is Clare."
Odette managed a smile her way and seemed to loosen up somewhat. "Well Clare, I appreciate you talking with me. I only wish I could trust you. I will eventually find out the truth of my past with or without your help."
And then Odette walked away, leaving Clare feeling awkward about the whole situation. So many things had gone wrong lately that it seemed impossible for everything to return to the way things were, and that made all this all the more heartbreaking. Both Teresa and Raki were gone and she wasn't sure if they were ever coming back.