M o i r a
That tonight is somehow different
Than the next one or the last,
And the future is as certain
As the dimly shadowed past.
- Kate Hockersmith, All Hallow's Eve
Moonlight poured through her window as she groggily sat up in her bed, blinking; with the shutters open, she could hear music coming from outside. Festive music, and laughing, and singing, and cheering, and clapping: a celebration.
The house, however, was quiet.
Her first thought was to question why she was alone, but not how or why she knew that she was certainly, and her second was that the air smelled good. Thick, but sweet. Like flowers…like lilacs.
Rachel looked down at herself, suddenly remembering her dress. Miraculously, it appeared unwrinkled in the wake of her nap. She swung her feet over the edge of the bed and smoothed her skirt carefully anyway before rising. She walked towards the window; the moon was full, and positioned perfectly in the sky so that its light shone directly into her room and onto her. Through the trees, beyond her backyard, she saw lights and distant shadows moving.
She turned away, making for the stairs, stopping to smile at her reflection as she passed her full-length mirror. But as she came downstairs a sudden urge to be out of her house gripped her; she hurried for the door, feeling somewhat anxious as she stepped outside and into the velvety night air.
There was a fog rolling through the town, and again, Rachel felt strange as she walked the streets that were completely empty. Where was everyone? She followed the sounds of the music and the festivities and found herself making a way through the cool mist towards the park.
Lanterns were fastened up high in the trees, with festive hangings strung from each, connecting one light to the other and creating a criss-cross sort of pattern above the heads of the party-goers, and Rachel realized as she gazed into the crowd that nearly everyone from the town was here. As she stepped off the bridge, barefoot, someone ran up to her.
"Rachel!" called a voice that was familiar yet indistinct. Rachel squinted at the figure standing before her, but their features were blurry and she couldn't place who, exactly, they were.
"Glad you could finally join us!" said the mysterious person, lifting a mug of something or another before her. "Congratulations!" Then, with a laugh, they turned away and disappeared into the crowd. Rachel stood there for a moment, confused, but oddly giddy. She realized that she was smiling, but didn't know why.
She felt a hand on her shoulder then, and turned around to come face-to-face with Verrell.
She blinked up at him, startled. "Verrell," she said, and felt something soft flutter inside of her as the word left her mouth. "What's going on?"
Verrell smiled at her in that alarmingly beautiful way of his, although Rachel felt no alarm even as she finished thinking that. She watched him curiously as he reached for her hand.
"What do you mean, my dear?" He asked before planting a soft kiss to her fingers.
Rachel blushed. "Er—I—uh," she stammered. "I mean, this. What's all of this?" She gestured with her free hand to the party happeing in full swing around them, and Verrell followed her gesture curiously before gazing back at her with a quirked brow.
"What do you mean?" he asked again with a chuckle. "It's our engagement party, of course."
Rachel's brain stopped for a moment; her mouth hung open as she stared up at him dumbly. He laughed.
"Don't tell me you forgot," he said.
"Engaged?" she squeaked. Quickly she looked from his face down to her hand clutched gently in his, then back again. Strange memories started filtering in; foggy pictures of him staring up at her from a kneeling position on the floor, smiling as she held her hand much the way he was doing now. Emotions flitted into her along with the memory; surprise, joy…love.
Rachel shook her head. "No," she said. "Wait." She pulled her hand out of his. At his strange look, she quickly reassured him before she realized what she was saying. "Yes, I remember." Her voice sounded distant. That wasn't what she wanted to say. She stepped back from him.
"Rachel," he called her name, and as he did she felt funny. She froze, baffled.
"I..I..I don't feel right," she whispered. "I don't feel right." Suddenly a new emotion welled up within her: fear, clear as day. "Verrell, something's wrong."
He stepped towards her then, so closely their bodies practically pressed together, and took her face in his hands. "Sh, sh, sh," he soothed. Rachel stared into his eyes. They were familiar, and warm, and worried as he gazed down at her. She loved this man. Didn't she? She felt something looking into his angelic face, something strong.
"I proposed to you two nights ago," he told her, gently. "In the tavern. Remember? I surprised you while you were at work. Think back, Rachel. You cried and said yes and I held you."
She remembered. She remembered but somewhere inside of her she knew she shouldn't have. She wanted to break away from him, but at the same time she wanted nothing else than to be held by him. What was happening to her? She shook her head; hot tears spilled from her eyes.
"No," she choked. "I—"
Quickly, Verrell kissed her. Immediately Rachel closed her eyes; his lips were warm and soft. As he kissed her she felt everything inside of her coming together—every foggy, fragmented memory of them together fell into place perfectly, every experience they had, every touch, every look, every memory leading up to now. She felt herself calm down as a wave of reassurance washed over her; she wound her arms around his neck and pressed herself into him, relief making her body pliant as her lips responded to his own.
Then, suddenly, she heard a sound inside her own mind; a bell so clear and sharp that she thought her skull would crack, and everything she had just saw and experienced in Verrell's arms shattered.
Rachel woke up.
"Augh," she cried, and pushed him away, violently. She stumbled to her knees, clutching her ringing head as reality flooded back into her mind. "I remember," she whispered, hoarsely. "I remember."
Verrell stepped towards her. "My love—"
"DON'T CALL ME THAT," she shrieked. "You—you—you demon!" She drove herself to her feet to face him, but froze at what she saw.
Standing in front of her was not Verrell; as she gazed into his alien face, there wasn't a trace of human left. His ears stretched long and pointed alongside his moon-fair face, which was as sharp as it was lovely. His eyes were unnaturally large and had no pupils, no whites; they were a solid, iridescent, inhumanly pale shade of green.
He reached for her, and his white fingers were lithe and pointed in the moonlight, elongated by an extra joint.
Rachel screamed, jumping away from him. "By the Goddess," she cried. "What are you?"
Verrell froze. He stared down at his hand as though surprised by what he saw. After a moment his expression changed, hardened, and he let his arm fall back to his side. "I see," he said quietly. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Artemis!"
Rachel whirled, looking to the people who had undoubtedly seen everything that had just happened for help. But as she took in the scene playing out beneath the light of the full moon, she felt as though the breath had been knocked out of her. "Oh," she whispered, horrified. "Oh, no…"
No one had stopped at the commotion she and Verrell had made; however, what Rachel had before saw as a jovial festival was now revealed as something much more horrific. Everyone danced—and now she could recognize the faces of the people she saw—but they were dirty, grey and broken. Yuka and Meimei and Amanda; Barrett and Tal and Duelle; Mark and Jennifer, dancing on bloody feet, around and around, unable to stop, trapped in an endless revel. Rachel saw the bodies of people who had already been driven to collapse, lying motionless on the ground, flattened as they were trampled by the others who would soon follow. Everyone moaned, low and drawn, a sickening shadow of laughter as they held hands in a revolving circle designed to never break, to never end.
Rachel screamed. "What have you done?"
"We can stop this," Verrell answered behind her. His voice was calm and emotionless. Rachel turned. "Just do as we say and you can save them."
Rachel felt her lip tremble. Why? She wanted to ask. Why? But she didn't. Her chest heaved; but instead of a cry of anguish, she let loose a shriek of fury and lunged for his throat.
Verrell was faster than her however. He stepped to the side and Rachel stumbled through the place he had been standing. He reached for the scabbard at his hip and drew from it a long, thin rapier that looked as though it were made of glass.
"Do as we say," he repeated, and Rachel faced him with bared teeth. "This can be easy, or this can be hard, Rachel."
"Oh, Fionn," cooed a voice. "Where's the fun in that?"And Amarante appeared beside him, transformed—revealed. Her eyes were like Verrell's—large and solid, but in this creatures eyes Rachel could only see insanity and twisted hunger as she grinned. She held in her hand a coiled whip, with wicked ends made from jagged pieces of glass.
"Let her fight us! What's the point if you can't draw some blood?" Artemis laughed, and Rachel's fresh memory of her loved ones' bloody, broken feet surged to her mind's eye.
"Monsters," she hissed, before unfurling her wings and leaping into the air.
She heard enraged shouting below her as she took off in flight, but she didn't look back. I need my sword, she thought desperately as she buzzed over the trees. I need to kill them. Her house and backyard came into view, and Rachel angled herself so that she could fly into her bedroom window, which she had left open earlier. She landed roughly; her legs gave out beneath her as she tumbled into the house.
Suddenly she felt weak, and as she climbed unsteadily to her feet she smelled lilacs. The dress, she remembered with no little amount of rage. I'm still wearing the dress! She looked down at herself and fumbled for the bodice strings in the back, pulling until it constricted around her body painfully before finally ripping free. She tore the garment off of herself, kicking it away as it fell to the floor. Instantly she felt better; sharper, stronger. The dress had been enchanted to weaken her.
Naked but for her scant underpants, Rachel turned towards her bed and dropped down to her hands and knees to reach underneath. She dragged her shield, sword and scabbard out from beneath the bed and stood to arm herself; as she finished fastening her belt around her hips, however, she heard a sharp crack from behind her; a searing pain shot through her brain as something ripped through the membrane of her left wing.
She cried out, stumbling into the wall. Another crack sounded, and over that a chuckle. Rachel turned, pulling her sword out with a flash and raising her shield, gritting her teeth against the burning agony of her torn wing.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk," admonished Artemis, who stood at the top of the staircase leading into Rachel's room. "You play dirty."
Rachel didn't reply, glancing towards her window. She wondered how badly her wing was injured, and whether or not she could still fly.
No, she thought, darkly. No. She dies here.
She sneered at Artemis, who stood cockily with her unfurled whip. "You know," the woman said conversationally. "The whole town will probably be dead by morning."
Rachel felt her eye jump, but dared not make a move. Don't be goaded into foolishness, she reminded herself.
Artemis cracked her whip. "Let's dance." Rachel dove into a roll as Artemis lashed out, cutting the wall behind where the girl had stood. Rachel rose in front of her window, but as she did she began to feel light-headed. She shook herself in an attempt to focus her alarmingly blurry vision.
"Aww," cooed Artemis. "What's wrong, princess? Oh," she brought a long finger up to tap her dainty chin. "Wait, I know—you're poisoned!"
"What?" Rachel gasped. Her wing burned, as though it were being eaten away—Rachel glanced at the woman's sinister whip, to the jagged glass ends that gleamed in the light of the moon shining in through the window.
"Poisoned…" she echoed.
"That's right," Artemis purred, before letting her weapon fly again. This time Rachel barely managed to block it with her shield. She stumbled backwards, her lower back bashing painfully into the windowsill. Rachel looked behind her; outside, on the ground below, stood Fionn with his sword drawn. Rachel looked back to Artemis. She was cornered. If she fought, she would loose. She couldn't fly away. She could barely keep up with that whip. Rachel thought quickly, remembering a particular spell Nunuzac had taught her years ago.
She could feel the poison doing it's work on her body; her limbs felt weak, and her breath was beginning to shorten. She didn't have much time. One shot, she told herself. You have one shot at this.
She raised her shield to hide her mouth, and began uttering her spell. Mom, Daddy, I'm sorry.
Artemis' inhuman eyes narrowed dangerously. "Ohoho, not so fast, princess," she said before letting fly her whip. Rachel timed her block; raising her shield against the attack, she pushed herself up and back, through the window, using her wings to propel herself into the air. The left one screamed as she commanded it to work against the poison and the pain.
Mana hummed in the air, following Rachel as she fell like the tail on a shooting star; she released her spell as Fionn's shocked face rose up to meet her—and closed her eyes as a blinding flash of light enveloped her body.
Suddenly Rachel was falling through different, thicker air, and gasped as she was assaulted by piercing rain. Thunder crashed. A raging river, grey and frothy and merciless, was the last thing she saw before hitting the water and losing consciousness.
A/N: FINALLY, WE GET SOMEWHERE.
Escad at last makes his entrance next chapter!
Do tell me if I made any sort of grammatical error this chapter. It's two in the morning right now and I am EXHAUSTED.