I feel it already, in the deep pit of my stomach. This anxious feeling is a warning. I slam the book I was reading, causing invisible particles to fly and float into the air. Throwing my feet off the small velvet couch, I get up hurriedly. My dress swishes, brushing my knees as I pace through the room and down the corridor, to the outside.
Once I was outdoors, I make my way down the steep grassy hill, carefully doing little leaps to another soft patch. As I reach the bottom, I spot the expansive silver lake that reflects a metallic image in the setting sun. I yearn to get closer, to gaze into its rippling water, but the sinking sun tells me to go. I instead head right, where a small cave's opening is set in the hills. Inside of it is deep darkness, where the grass ends and a cool breeze blow out of the cave's mouth. After taking a deep breath, as I do every night, I plunge into the cave, my bare feet chilled by the stone floors' damp surface. My feet make small smacking sounds as I lift them from the surface. I tread steadily through the cave, although all I see is black.
However, I soon see a familiar prick of light, and I quicken my light steps, eager to reach it. I soon do, and step into a huge cavern filled with bright moonlight from the missing ceiling above. Although there is little time, I skip over to the small pool of water that is nestled between walls of stone in a corner. I drink quickly, and then stare intensely into the water.
At first, there is only my reflection. A thin face with large blue eyes, framed by strands of short gold hair. Two thin shoulders cradle my head as I stare. But soon the picture changes, and I see a flash of an image, which is just enough for me. Which is good because the water turns inky black as a shadow is cast over the bowl, blocking the light I crave. It only lasts a moment.
A massive dragon descends from the sky, to gently rest on the cold stone floor of the cavern. His scales spike outward, his small clever eyes fixate on my small figure immediately. I step forward tentatively, reading myself. He breathes out, smoke gently rising in the air and ashes being breathed out, to float and sway into the air before sticking to the moist floor.
I clear my throat and glance upwards, already looking for that clock in the sky, the moon. I commence. I sing and dance, twirling and spinning around the floor, my clear voice bouncing off the stone walls. The dragon sits, practically motionless as I sing, his eyes the only things moving as they follow me.
As the hours slowly pass, the bright moon begins to make it on the lip of the top of the cavern, till it moves across the whole top only to sink down again. My bones ache, my feet hurt, my voice feels raw. But the notes must come out clear, and my feet must be graceful. When the sky begins to change, the dragon rustles his wings, signaling his leave. I halt my voice and back away, gripping the edge of the walls for support. He stops and looks at me.
"Well done again, Rin." His deep voice booms, echoing in the large cavern. His voice has a hissing sound that frightens me, but I never show it. He expands his wings and rushes off into the dawning sky. I collapse, dropping to the floor. My heart feels like a small bird trying to get out. I turn on my side, and try to raise myself by pushing my arms up, but instead I feel my lungs gasping for sweet air, and I cough until the red stains appear on my hands and stain the front of my dress. I wipe away stray tears from my fit, and crawl over to the pool. After drinking, I wait patiently.
As the sun rises, the cavern fills with a different light, bright instead of blue. I start to feel that hopelessness, just as I do every morning, because I used to just have to rest for a moment, but now I collapse after each time. Even more, there is only two months left before my sixteenth birthday. No diva has ever lived past their sixteenth birthday.
For that is what I am, an essential pawn that is sacrificed to the dragon in hopes that it will keep him occupied so that he will not wreak havoc on the land. The diva is chosen carefully, torn away from their families at birth, and trained in isolation until they are six. Then they are thrust into this captive world, where I live now, isolated completely from everyone and anywhere else.
Every night I sing and dance the prayers to the dragon, and he stays docile, at least until the diva can no longer perform. Then he finishes them off if they do not just die on the spot. The strain of singing and dancing for all hours of the night, from sunset to sunrise, takes a immense physical and mental blow on our bodies, which is why no one lives to be sixteen. Or so I've read. I'm surprised I've lasted this long, probably because of willpower. But I know in my heart I'm getting worse, and if this isn't enough to break me, then the deal I made with the dragon years ago for my birthday will. It might be the thing that finishes me off, but I will never regret it.
I watch as my real condolence appears in the water, providing me with a glimpse of the outside world. I watch lovingly as the familiar figure appears, so similar to mine. His face fills the reflection, with that same searching gaze as he stares out into the expansive world. I accidently let one tear slip, breaking the image. I know that he, my precious twin and brother Len, is looking for me.
I hesitate as we sit in the tavern, weighing my options. Risk being found out and leaving a trail, or perhaps coming closer to finding her. I pick the latter. As I stand, my closest comrade Kaito tries to pull me back down.
"Don't risk it Len, there's hardly any chance she's escaped anyways. No diva has ever escaped." He whispers, tossing his head to move his blue bangs out of his eyes. I shake his arm off.
"Be quiet, you don't know that! You don't know her." I say protectively. If anyone could, my precious Rin would be able to break out of wherever she is being held. Which, is why I search every face I meet, always looking for the one similar to mine. The matching piece to the endless puzzle that is my life, my heart. I will never be complete without her. Which is why I get up and stride towards the bartender, most likely the owner, to ask if he's seen her.
"Excuse me, but have you seen a girl, about sixteen, looks like me? She's my twin." I say hopefully, never being able to hold it back from my voice. The bartender squints at me thoughtfully, and shakes his head.
"Sorry son, never seen her. She run away or something?" I bite my lip, wishing I could defend her in this moment, but I only nod and walk away, quicker than I came. I know that Rin would rather be with me than trapped, force to sing to her death. I grasp the elegantly twisted metal charm that hangs from the cord that hangs from my neck, wishing, always wishing, always searching.
Another member of our small group returns from the outhouse, his long purple hair and robes swaying. He makes our way to the table.
"We'd better leave soon, it's almost dawn." Gakupo says quietly, bobbing his purple head towards the door. I nod, but my thoughts again stray to her. She will be resting soon, I hope, her deed for the night done. Kaito pays our bill with the meager amount of coins we have from a small sack, and we head out the door, our boots pounding the packed dirt. We walk down the path a ways, then duck behind a tree to pull out our crudely drawn map and plan, bought off a fellow traveler for a few copper coins. The map, that is. We made the plan ourselves. After going over it one again, we are ready. Ready to start the most dangerous, but essential, part of getting my twin back.
We are in the town of Dunbar, and the castle where the detested Lady Luka resides is very close by. I say detested, because she is the one in control of the land, it is she who orders the choosing of the divas, she who keeps war in the land alive and hatred in my heart. It was her father who ordered the seizing of my infant sister when we were no more than a few days old. Her existence was stolen from me and my recently widowed mother in that moment. My mother died when I was young, heartbroken over the losses, leaving behind a letter describing that day and urging me to find Rin, and to share the letter with her.
I shake my head angrily, silent rage building along with a trail of sadness. No one, not even my mother ever understood me, never understanding the deepness of the loss of my beloved twin. She is my other half, and I will not let her die like all the others. No. Not her, not my Rin. This is why this plan must work, if we are ever to reach her in time, for I feel that with every passing day, the time she has left decreases.
Our plan is simple. Gakupo, a wizard in training, (or at least he used to be), will use his powers to slip us into the leftmost tower of the castle. We will lie in wait for him to draw The Lady away from the others, so we can hold her hostage and get the information of where Rin is. If all goes well, we can disappear; no one hurt, and we will be one step closer to her. It will take all day to get up to the castle unseen, so by evening the castle will be shrouded in darkness, the perfect cover for our entrance and swift exit.
We all nod in agreement before slipping the map away, and start walking off the path towards the tangles of woods, ready to start our mission.
I wake up when the sun is high and full in the sky, shining through my window onto my beds rumpled cream covers. I sit up, propping myself up with my arms and pillows. I see my reflection in the ornate mirror across the room. The bottom portion of my face is covered in rusty red patches, and my dress has stains, smeared and dried. As my hand reaches up to carefully push my hair back, I see it too has been temporarily dyed with my own blood. Too exhausted to change last night, I had merely crawled into bed without any thoughts towards my appearance. I still feel tired; I just want to go back to sweet, numbing, sleep. But I know from experience this will not help, it will only make me sluggish. I stare back into the image, ashamed of the ugly picture I make. If Len saw me like this…
I shake my head and decide on a quick bath, drawing it myself. I live absolutely alone, not a soul for companionship, except perhaps for the deceased souls of previous divas that haunt this place. But if they are here, I haven't heard or seen them, thank goodness. But I do know all about them, their personalities, characteristics, their whole lives up to their last breathes. They all died a similar fate, each one tragic. I know this because of their diva books.
Here in whatever land this is, we are separated by a boundary, no one able to come in or out, unless of course you are the new sacrifice, a new diva. The boundary itself is somewhat magical, as this land is. The lake, the library, the edge of the woods where the boundary lays, all are magical, not like anything existing in the real world, or so I've read. The library resides in the large stone manor in which I live, in fact; it is not far from my bedroom. It holds many books that exist in both worlds, but there is one dusty glass case that holds the faded diva books, one for each diva that has ever been, written perhaps by the book itself. It describes the life of each diva, so new divas can come and learn, about being a diva, the history, and perhaps even how to finally escape. Thoughts of divas are recorded in the book also, but none of it is written by the divas themselves. I too have a diva book, unfinished of course, but I cannot write in it; I have tried, hoping to change my destiny with a simple edit on its page. I have read each diva book again and again, hoping for answers, but each story is sadder than the last, each diva confused as to how to escape as I am. I have read mine often as well, just for descriptions of my brother. It describes the day we were torn apart, our hands still clasped together as we cried. The first time I read it, I cried myself, one of the few times I let myself.
I have to stay strong, so when I finally see Len he will not think me pathetic, a silly girl waiting to be rescued in a tower. I yearn for my rescue, but I have to at least try to get out myself, for there is a clue, and I don't want to rest it all on my brother's shoulders. The only clue is one that is inscribed in a stone archway by the garden, it reads;
"To break the cycle, one must link both worlds with a bond unseen but strong, one which has a name that is long gone, and break both barriers inside and out, to end the curse over the land and the one who stands forever alone.
For In the paradise of light and shadow, nothing is what it seems, life is cruel and fate is harsh, but love is everlasting if it is true."
I have pondered this riddle of sorts for hours and hours at end. Looked in multiple books, wrote it out many times, wished on a star, everything! But despite my greatest efforts, I can never seem to figure it out. Of course, I've tried other things too, desperate to leave. There were some good ideas, and some not so good ones, like lighting a lot of things on fire in hopes that fiery danger would lower the barriers. Turns out that fire will not set me free. So after a lot of trial and error, I'm pretty much out of ideas, and the doom of passing time doesn't exactly lift my spirits.
However, the only benefit of this magic here is the lake, where I can stare out into the real world, a window into the life outside, where I can follow my brother as he searches for me. When I was younger, I used to get so frustrated, seeing him search to no prevail. It wasn't fair; even I don't know where I am. Now, it's better, because as time has went on, Len has made friends who can help him, either help him find me or… help him afterwards, when he will be sad. I'm glad he won't be alone if we fail.
Speaking of Len, I decide to go and see him. Getting dressed in one of my many gauzy dresses and my signature bow, I walk through the large corridors once again. One of the few benefits from living in complete solitude is that I can dress and act however I want. I once tried on pants and ran around in them for a while, but discovered I like dresses better, as long as they aren't long or confining. But I still like to play dress up every once in a while. Sometimes I even dress up like Len, it makes me happy to see our similarities, it's almost like he's in the room, or the mirror at least.
As I walk through the corridors, its walls are exquisitely decorated with many paintings on the walls, and carpeting on the floors, a fine place, but a prison never less. I push open the heavy wooden door, and sunlight streams through. Pausing once step outside, I stand there, wind gently blowing my dress and hair, feeling the soft grass between my feet, soaking it in. There isn't much time I get to stay in the sun, so I cherish it almost as much as the images of my Len.
Walking down the hill again, I head away from the dreadful cave towards the silver lake. Once reaching the edge, I inch closer and closer until I can see my reflection easily reflected in the clear water. I sit down in the grass, spreading my skirts over my knees. Soon I see Len, he and his friends are walking somewhere. I gaze in close, curious. Yesterday they were not by a town. I sigh wistfully, wishing that I could sit here all day. My hand wraps around the small treble clef charm at the end of a long cord. His hand does as well around the bass clef charm that hangs round his neck. I am not surprised, this has happened before, these coincidences. I wish he could see me as well, know how much I miss him. I tenderly touch the water, which makes the image disappear, as expected. I pick myself up, for I cannot stay here all day.
Often times, I will do random things during the day, whatever I feel like. I used to study, but now I tire of it easily and would rather draw or read. I like to do things outside, but often times the lake is like a siren that calls to me. So I head back into the house, and make my way slowly up the carpeted plush stairs, cursing my weak legs. I feel fatigued again, so it's lucky that I'm not going far, just back to the library.
The library is an expansive room filled with books on everything and anything. I plan to read every one, for Len. He used to read all the time before he left to find me, and now he has no time for reading, so when we are together, I will tell him everything he missed. Right now I'm reading a romance; I've been quite taken to the lovesick stories lately. Although I don't think Len will appreciate these stories as I do, they are addictive. The idea of having such a relationship with some else like that fascinates me. I am almost sixteen, and still haven't had my fist kiss. I touch my lips gently, wondering what it would be like. I yearn to know what it's like, to lovingly press your lips against someone else's, but who else is to kiss around here? Perhaps a wall? I have thought about it before, and embarrassingly I've always thought of Len being the one kissing back. I'm not sure if such a thing is morally right but… I blush; for once glad to be alone. I know Len hasn't kissed anyone else either, not because I watch him all the time, but because of a conversation he had with Kaito a few weeks ago…
"Len, I know you are intent on finding Rin, but maybe you should try to gain a little life of your own." Kaito noted as they were walking along a path. Gakupo had gone ahead, leaving Len and Kaito on their own. Len's eyes flashed an angry blue.
"I cannot have a life without her. For now this is my life. And I could never ever leave her to suffer and die like that. You could never understand." He snarls. My heart fills with emotion. I often feel the same.
Kaito blinks. "Len, I didn't mean to make you mad, I mean, it just seems like you have devoted your whole being to this. Have you ever done something just for yourself?" Len shakes his head angrily.
"This is for myself and for her. I don't need anything else." He says prickly.
"That's ridiculous. What about a girl huh? Have you ever even kissed a girl?" Kaito asks inquiringly. I lean forward anxiously, listening hard for Lens answer. Len blushes bright red and my heart sinks. I lean back, feeling silly tears well up. Why do I care?
"N-No. I haven't." I crouch back over the glistening water. He hasn't?
"See? You haven't even really lived yet. You should take a break or something, live in the same place for more than a day, find a lady friend." Kaito nudges Len in the ribs. However, I see Len darken at Kaito's words. Len elbows Kaito in the ribs, hard, and Kaito doubles over. Len keeps walking. After gasping for air and waiting for the pain to cease, Kaito catches up with Len, holding his side.
"What was that for?" he exclaims angrily. Len stops and turns.
"Don't ever tell me to stop looking for her. She is my life; I will never stop trying to find her. Never, even if I spend my life searching with fruitless results. I love her more than anything; she is the most important thing." He exclaims this loudly, and although they are alone on the dusty road, his face is still flushed pink. Kaito stares blankly into Len's face, then slowly nods. Len whips around and continues walking, with Kaito solemnly following him.
I'm ashamed to say that I wrote down what he said, so I always would remember it. He really does love me, despite us being apart. It's because of these things of why I must keep going. I must not let Len down.
The sky above us is a dark blue, lighter at the edges. We have made it perfectly in time, the gray slabs of stone visible as we creep forward, closer every second to the woman I detest. When we reach the walls, we are bathed in velvety darkness, a thin chill sitting in the air; I can feel it on my bare arms. I pay it no mind, my mind is set. Kaito lets me lead the way, Gakupo already separated from our small pack to slip inside. I feel cold sweat slip down my neck, my stomach churns in nervousness. I swallow hard and Kaito places a hand on my shoulder, nodding for us to go.
We have reached a corner of this castle, and on the other side sit three guards, standing bored and unsuspecting. I nod back to Kaito and we rush forward, quickly silencing the guards with light blows. Soon they all lay slumped, unconscious on the hard ground. I glance back guiltily, but Kaito edges me forward. We slip through the wooden door, closing it quietly. We tread through a million empty, dark corridors, Kaito leading the way with his map. I keep my hand on my sword at all times, feeling nervous and jumpy. Our boots make silent treads on the dirt floors.
Luckily for us, it appears Kaito can read a map, because we soon find ourselves in a more decorated, lit hall. Unfortunately, as we round a corner, we hear voices. Loud ones.
"Get back!" Kaito hisses, pushing me back around the corner with his arm. I try to breathe silently, but my stomach rolls like the sea as I recognize one of the voices to be Gakupo.
"Let me go! Let me go!" I hear him shout. There's a groan soon after and the thumping sound of someone being hit. My skin crawls as we stand, just around the corner, helpless.
"Any trespasser into this castle is a danger, and you seem like a threat." Says a gruff voice. Another muffled punch. I almost dart forward, but Kaito holds me back again, shaking his head and looking away. Although he holds me back, I can feel him through his grip on me that he is shaking with anger. I hear the other voices again.
"Let's lock him up and let her deal with him; she will be mad if we do not tell her of a trespasser." Says the gruff voice.
"Yea, that's a good idea. You wanna do it, or you want me to do it?"
"I'll tell her, you lock him up."
"Got it." We wait in agony as they head off into different directions, one dragging Gakupo away. I turn to Kaito once they are gone.
"What do we do now?" I say desperately. This was not part of the plan. Kaito rubs his forehead and frowns. I kick the ground, feeling stupid. Of course we should have thought more ahead than this!
"I dunno." He sighs. I see his eyes dart back from where we came. "Maybe we should just grab him and get out of here." He says.
Anger flashes through me as I remember Rin. We can't give up now! I grab onto Kaito's shoulders.
"Listen, here's what we are going to do. You are going to trail Gakupo and that other guard, and break him out as fast and quietly as you can. I'm going to catch up with that other guard and follow him to Luka. You and Gaku come for back up as soon as you can." He stares at me.
"You can't just go by yourself! That's suicide! What if something else goes wrong? And what are you planning to do once you get there?" he whispers furiously. I take my hands off and shrug, placing my right hand back on my sword.
"I guess I will just wing it. Follow the plan!" I say, as I whisk around to follow the lone guard. I hope Kaito can find his way.
Luckily, I spot the guard soon enough and tail him silently and as inconspicuously as I can. Luckily, it seems as if Lady Luka placed most of the guards outside the walls rather than in. Soon enough, the guard stops in front of an ornate door. I was too busy looking out for other soldiers that I went around the corner after him, realizing it just in time to dash back behind. I hear him knock three sharp times.
I think of Rin, then bravely rush forward to knock the solider in the head, letting him fall unconscious to the ground. I drag him quickly out of sight. A voice comes from the other side of the wall.
"Come in." Coos a slinky voice. I shiver. That's got to be her. I grab the door handle, feeling its cold metal handle in my grasp as I dig my heels into the carpeted floor and pull open the door.
I suddenly hear another voice close behind me. I feel a shock run up and down my body, my heart beating fast, as I leave the door to dodge behind a mirror close by. I peek out; it is the solider dragging Gakupo. How could this have happened? Where was Kaito? I'm so confused; I know I followed the right guard. I guess it doesn't matter now. I hold my breath as the guard lifts Gakupo to his feet, he still holding his side as they enter Lady Luka's room. I turn and look around frantically as they go in. There's got to be another way in.
I search frantically along the walls until I find a door. I slip in inconspicuously, grateful for the dim light. I slip behind a curtain; luckily Luka's back was turned. I hide childishly, and then quickly hatch a plan. Meanwhile, Gakupo is forced to the ground to kneel in front of the lady herself.
Lady Luka. She stands regally, rather haughtily. She is tall with long straight pink hair that falls past her back. Her large chest and curvy body is flaunted in carefully constructed clothes out of rich black and yellow material. Her blue eyes shimmer in her pale face. I grit my teeth. Luka smirks and laughs, a throaty sound. She turns, her back facing me. I grab my sword, but then hesitate when she speaks.
"Who are you young sir?" she tones in a happy voice. Gakupo looks past her, refusing to acknowledge her. Her face grows dark. She gets closer.
"Answer me!" She growls. He does not. I feel a rise of pride for my friend, but then she gives a swift nod to the guard, who grips Gaku's long hair and smashes his face into the black and white tiled floor. He looks up at her with a look of pure disgust and hatred through his obvious pain. I try to breathe normally in spite of my intense anger, but it gets the best of me.
My feet move fast and silently, as I slip behind Lady Luka, silently draw my sword, then bring it to her neck. The guard gapes and Gakupo grins at my sudden appearance. Luka doesn't not move or speak.
"Let him go." I say angrily. The guard doesn't move, glancing at Luka. "Let him go!" I yell. A low chuckle comes from the witch in front of me. With a slight gesture of her fingers, she points to the door.
"Put him back. I'll get him later." She says lazily. I grip my sword tighter. She does realize this is a sword right? The guard trembles, then nods and pulls Gakupo away. I start to shout after them, but Gaku interrupts me as he is dragged out the door.
"Len! Behind you!" He manages to get out as I turn, my sword knocked out of my hands forcefully, myself just avoiding a near fatal blow. My sword sticks firmly in the ground and I look up urgently to find the source.
A figure sheathed in white and red decorated armor stands before me; her short brown hair hiding her face, her arm extended holding her own sword. A long cape and skirt of red also adorn this sturdy girl; she looks only a little older than I am, only a little younger than Luka herself.
She moves her arm to hold up her sword and lifts her head, her red eyes bring into mine. I can see my shocked face in her brightly polished sword. Her eyes narrow and I hurry to pick up my sword just in time to clash with hers.
She thrusts her sword against mine with a powerful grip, and I struggle to hold my own against the force of the metal blade. When they part, she merely shrugs her head to the side carelessly, her mahogany bangs sliding to the side. Her careless attitude invokes my rage as I once again go head to head against this foe. She wields her sword with great skill and grace as we fight, and when we part it is I who is slightly short of breath.
Lady Luka stands to the side, observing the fight silently. I gasp out:
"Who are you?" The swordswomen smiles.
"I am Meiko, The crimson knight. May I ask who you are, and why you have invaded our lovely castle?" She says smoothly. I swallow hard.
"I am Len, and I'm here to get information about the Diva. She is my Twin sister, and I aim to set her free!" I declare with great proclamation. Meiko's face changes suddenly, a slight shift.
"The diva? It is impossible, do not even try. Weaklings like you will only perish." She snarls, suddenly aggressive. Lady Luka raises an eyebrow, glancing at Meiko. She notices it too. I turn to meet Meiko's eyes.
"Never." I say, my sword meeting hers with the sound of grinding metal. She glares back and I am pressed back again.
"Diva's are sacrifices for the country; once they are Diva's they are only that, nothing else. Give up. She is no longer your sister." She says with anger set in her voice.
Anger rises in me as I picture it as my mother described in her letter, my sister and I, our hands held fast even as infants, wailing in sync as they reach for her, to rip us apart. The loneliness she must feel, being trapped and lone all the time. All of the endless searching with little results, our precious time slipping away.
The careless way Meiko tilts her head when she looks at me, as if I am just a blip on her radar, a nuisance with no cause, just as she has silenced Rin to be. I pull my sword back; my feet pound the floor as I rush towards her with newfound aggression. She too lifts her sword, ready to disarm me, but her face changes when she hears me yell;
"You don't know; you don't know what it's like, to have your most precious one's existence stolen from you!" I scream out, rushing towards her, sword lifted high as I dash. Her face is one of sad uncertainty, as if she is looking back into the past, her red eyes wide, and her hands frozen. She squeezes her eyes closed for a moment before ripping them open again. She whisks her sword around to clash into mine at the right second, disarming me and pinning me to the checkered floor. My sword clatters uselessly across the tiled floor. Her face is tilted downwards, her brown hair hiding her expression. I sit, still seething with anger as I wait to die. Her arm trembles the slightest bit, only enough for me, who is inches away from her sword, to notice. Lady Luka chuckles and I slowly turn my head to see her. She raises her arm pointedly.
"Finish him." She tones, licking her lips. But Meiko does not move, and I see her bare her teeth, they are clenched together. I thought shakes me. Is she hesitating because she does not want to kill me? I stare at her hidden profile, shaken to the core, wondering what she will do. She suddenly pulls her arm back, swinging it away from me, only to stop inches away from Lady Luka's adorned throat. My heart basically stops as I stare for the moment at this wondrous sight. Lady Luka does not move or even back away, instead gazes into Meiko's eyes before cracking a smile as a roar erupts from above us.