Dark. All dark, blinding, terrible dark.
The sky covered in a blackness so deep, it swallowed all comfort from the ever shining stars. It was if they never exisited there in all that somber night.
Heavy thunder shook the ground as if to cleave mountains in twain. Lightning struck the inky clouds, only to be followed by the relentless, terrifying rumble.
Rain pelted hard, every bead like needles across the skin. And still, they marched. A small, sinister brigade, trasping desperately through the muck and cold. Driven by the head of the their party, seemingly unbothered by the downpour. Her head held high, barely a pant upon her lips as she led them on, and on and on through the trees, over jagged rock and slipping gravel. Her men struggling at her heels. The youngest of them tumbled to the ground, stringy black hair plastered to her face as she gazed helplessly at the woman far ahead. They would not survive much more of this. Surely, the wind and rain would sweep them off their feet to be buried in the sliding mud around them.
And there-in a flash of light, they saw it. The gaping, empty maw in the mountain side. Weeks of travel finally at an end. With a piteous sound, she was dragged upwards once more by one of their party and they soldiered on, hope fueling their last bit of speed into the cover of rock.
Once inside, gratefully shielded by the cave, they paused-the others working to light torches. The lair was dark. Cold, echoing the roar of the storm outside. The girl pulled her dripping cloak around her, trying desperately to recover a bit of warmth from the heavy fabric. Their leader merely walked ahead, flame in hand, gazing wildly at the high, smooth walls.
Their meager light danced across the damp, living spikes about them, a heavy air settling in their bones of the ancient creature who once resided there, long since dead and gone.
They paused in the great expanse that was once the heart of it's home-once dancing in flames and life where it slept.
The girl jumped and rushed to the side of her Mistress, shivering in the dim light. The woman before her pulled her cloak from her head, a bright jewel woven into her wet, sun-bleached hair. She turned to her, eyes blackened in the flickering light of her torch. She held out a lambskin satchel by it's strings.
"Begin the circle, apprentice." Her voice held a danger Agnet did not wish to test. Not now. Not yet. She took the satchel, bowed her head, and obediently retreated to the center of the cave.
As Agnet gingerly emptied the satchel, she watched the Mistress wander to an upper landing, her light disappearing behind a column. The girl turned, her eyes locking fearfully with two men sitting off to the right. Her brother, Liir, shifted in the light. Roe moved his hand to his sword. They in turn shared a glance with one another.
Agnet swallowed. Courage, child. Your strength cannot waver now.
Her robes dragged soppily behind her, the once white cloth clinging to her legs. Her feet bare, broken, bleeding-the pain numbed by cold.
It was no matter now. A trail well needed for this task, as were the others carried out in the days before. Insignificant sacrifices for the greater reward she was to reap. She stretched her arm, her torch lifting to better light the catacomb before her.
The Last had been here. She could feel him. Taste him in her every step-the blistering, fading light of his vehemence pulsing in every rock about her. Oh, what clarity-the fullness that once was the great beast-fire, heat, unadulterated might.
Oh, yes. She breathed in the stale, damp air. Power. So much power.
There, in the dark, she could feel them...light, steady throbs-hearty, so strong, and yet so small. So faint.
When she came upon the modest, twisted bed of branches, she nearly fell to her knees to weep. She would not. She would only smile upon the smooth, rounded memories in the light, rigid, eyelids lowered in sastisfaction.
Agnet shook in the fire light, hands stained-the wretched smell hanging on her from the symbols now smeared into the cave floor. Bile rose in her throat, staring at the clean, grisly relics she had only just placed about the ritual.
There were no words to be spoken for their wickedness. Her eyes trailed over the bleached objects-thin sharp ribs, rounded femurs cleaved of flesh-toothless jaws in the dark. No matter how this ended, the hollow, blank sockets of the four all too tiny skulls lined before the intricately placed remains would haunt her well into the hereafter. There was no forgiveness for this. For any of them.
The Mistress stood among them, drawing a thin, heavily engraved dagger from her sleeve. By her feet now laid a heavy, leather sack.
Agnet held back another wave of nausea. All had come to this.
"A gift of blood, " The Mistress lifted the blade, eyes turned towards the stones above. "Spilt from the pure in thy name. Bone, innocent, laid for thy endless hunger. Flesh of thy servant," She lifted her arm, bringing the weapon to the thick skin below her elbow. "Carved for thy worship upon the altar made," She bit the blade into her skin, cleanly shaving a thick, heavy strip from her arm. Agnet looked away. The Mistress held the dripping meat above the circle.
"Reverent before thy feet." It fell wetly among the red symbols. "And upon this altar, I command thee-ban, ban the barriers that none can pass, barrier of the Gods that none may break,"
The very ground seemed to shake with every boom of thunder outside the cave. Agnat whimpered, glancing desperately to Liir. He took her hand.
"Barrier of Heaven and Hell that none can change, barrier that no God can annul-come upon me, o' lord-" She lifted her hands towards the sky, "I am Helmach, dweller of Erebus, servant of all the Hells, I call upon thee, Astaroth, grant me all that I mean to claim."
A great gust blew through the cave, exstinguishing all but three torches. The demon was present. The demon would hear.
Helmach knelt near the edge of the circle, her hands reaching into the bag by her side. "I beg of thee, my lord..."
A cold, heavy handle was pressed into Agnet's shaking palm. Only one chance.
"With this, the last of these ancients..." Helmach lifted her hands, two large, dark, speckled eggs resting in her palms. Her lips curved, "The Last that hold this power, I beg you...feed upon my soul and grant me those of the Draconis."
Agnet stepped forward, the blade in her hand hidden by her cloak. Helmach stood, looming over the circle, eyes upwards-
She came to Helmach's side, and stretched a hand, palming one of the eggs. She and the Mistress lifted them, Helmach's eyes bright in malicious glee, going to split the creature's shell upon the circle-
With a cry, Agnet swung the sword and struck Helmach squarely in the back. The two rebels with her attacked the other faithfuls in turn, a fierce battle breaking within the cave. Helmach stumbled backwards, the egg in her hand falling from her fingers and smashing to the ground outside the circle.
"NO-! NO!" Helmach collapsed, the lifeless creature pooled blood by her knees-a roar sounding in the cave as Astaroth was swept from the catacombs-the ritual broken in an instant.
Agnet scrambled to hold onto the remaining egg, and tried to swing her weapon at the soreress once more. In a fury, Helmach snatched at the younger girl's arm and pulled herself upwards, driving Agnet back.
"GIVE IT TO ME!" Her eyes burned red, clawing for the life in Agnet's arms, a white heat sparking through her hand around Agnet's wrist. The girl cried out, fighting desperately to twist her arm free-
She slammed a heavy foot down upon the woman's broken toes-she howled, grip lessening, and Agnet tried to swing the sword again-
"Insolent WRETCH!" Helmach extended her hand, a great smoldering blue bolt shooting from her finger tips-the blast knocked Agnet yards away from the sorceress, pain bursting in her stomach.
The girl dropped the sword on impact and cradled the egg in her arms. The sorceress stood, the wound in her back knitting completely, hands glowing in the bleakness about her. Agnet looked frantically for help, only to see Roe fall to one of Helmach's men.
Agnet struggled to stand, feeling hot blood pouring down her side. Helmach advanced towards her, the glow about her hands intensifying. The girl hugged the egg to her chest, stepping backwards, praying, pleading-someone, anyone, please-
A body appeared between her and Helmach, sword at the ready, blood staining his face.
"Stay back, Witch!"
"It is a foolish boy..." Helmach lifted a hand. Agnet cried out, stepping forward.
The two left of Helmach's men started after Agnet.
With one last glance to her brother, Agnet turned and fled the cave.
The storm raged even harder than it had been before, the rain coming down in sheets-obscuring all vision, all light-
Agnet ran through the trees, stumbling over rock and fallen logs-her lungs burned, her legs giving out with every step-her stomach molten with agony. Branches scratched her cheeks, stones and rubble cutting her feet, legs-
They were coming. She knew, they were coming, she couldn't stop, not now, not yet-Agnet stumbled over a boulder, her ankle screaming in pain, her stomach giving a stabbing pulse. Her vision blurred, her head swam...
But there-there, far off, above her, flickering through the thick curtains of water-
A light. Orange, dim, but blessedly real.
She hugged the precious lump to her chest, it's warmth pressing through the soaked cloth and into her skin-and while her heart hammered desperately within her breast, she could feel the little heart within the shell beating softly, 'Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.'
Agnet stumbled further through the muck and downpour, her feet finding a thin and narrow path through the mountain-
She couldn't breathe anymore, shadows swam before her eyes as that orange light grew brighter, closer-and multiplied, in windows, flickering in archways of a tall, stone ediface, built into the mountain.
Her feet dragged her across a courtyard, stumbling over uneven stones to two large, wooden doors, She leaned bonelessly against them, and freed a hand to hammer on the wood.
Her broken voice called-but she couldn't find the strength to form words. She hit the wood over and over, pleading-there was a light-so many lights-someone had to be there-someone had to help-
She fell to her knees as the door swung open, and she clutched the bundle in her arms tightly, refusing to let it slip from her grasp. Her blurry eyes turned to a figure standing above her, and she nearly wept in relief.
"What on Earth-?" His voice seemed far away, and she reached for him, as if to pull it back from fading. She barely felt the strong hand take hers, and attempt to pull her up.
"Ple.." Agnet tried to speak, leaning heavily on the body heaving her to. "..he...hel.."
He called out around her, but he seemed to be fading away again. Agnet felt more hands on her soon after, but she refused to give up the lump in her arms. Everything was fading..everything was dark...
"-Brother Gilbert! Brother Gilbert, come quickly-!"
The Friar, having finally gotten to sleep with all of the noise of the storm, jumped awake at his door being slammed open, nearly tumbling from his bed in doing so.
Friar Peter stood in his doorway, candle in hand, duly shaken. Gilbert blinked anxiously-rising as he saw his nightclothes stained in red.
"What-what is it, what's happened, Peter-?"
"I don't know-come, come-" He turned, rushing into the hallway, Gilbert at his heels. "Brother Josep awoke to banging on the southern doors, and-there was a woman there-she's hurt, badly," Peter barreled through the doors leading to the south range, where against one of the far walls, a group of Friars were clustered. The strange woman was laid across a table, linen balled under her head. Blood pooled on the stone floor below her.
"I've sent for the healers, but-..." He paused, turning to him, a ways away from the woman in question. Gilbert nodded, and moved into the crowd, stepping up beside the injured woman.
Heavenly Father keep her, she was still a girl. The healer stood beside her, examining a large, angry wound in her side. Her arms were crossed over her chest, hugging a bundle of cloth. Her breaths were staggering, and she was blinking heavily. Gilbert lifted a hand and gently touched her head.
"My child...you are safe here." She seemed to hear him, her eyes briefly searching for his face. "Can you speak..?"
The girl struggled to do so, a weak sound escaping her. The healer looked up from her body, his mouth set in a grim line.
"The wound is deep. She has bled far too much, Brother Gilbert."
Gilbert nodded, stroking her sodden hair. "Can you tell me your name, child?"
"..Ag..Agn.." She let another sound, one more keening than the last.
"Shh.." He tried to sooth her and placed his other hand on her arm. "You will be at peace, child. Rest...there is no more needed of you now."
Gilbert nearly jumped when her hand shot out and latched onto his. Her eyes stared at him, suddenly clear, wide, fearful.
"What is it, child, what do you.."
She shifted the bundle in her arms, pushing it towards him.
"..keep it.." The girl gazed at him, pleading, desperate. Gilbert uncertainly touched the bundle, and with a look to her, lifted it into his arms. It was hard. Warm.
He looked at her again, opening his mouth to inquire-when she drew one last hard breath. Her eyes drifted, her chest stilled, and her hands laid limp on her chest.
Gilbert watched as the healer gently closed her eyes and shifted the weighty object in his arms. Peter came to his side and stared at it.
"...what could be so important to her, Brother Gilbert..?"
Gilbert turned his gaze to his arms, and with great care, removed the folds of soaking cloth.
"What on earth is-.."
Gilbert could only stare, his mouth agape, at the bespotted shell in his hands. The candle light dancing across it's shining surface, the heat from it seeping into his palms. It couldn't be. It was impossible. He gently ran his fingers over it, pausing, feeling...
Then he felt it.
A light flutter. A shift. A heartbeat.
He saw flames. Flames, flickering, bold, lively and fierce-
Dancing against a smooth, living wall, surrounded by pillars and dripping spikes-no..no, they were gone-the fires had long gone out, it was only cold, only damp, only death-
Everywhere, reminders, and yet nothing left behind-only space, emptiness and hurt-
Their keeper had long been gone, faded into a velvet sky, and twinkling lights, old and far away-
A mass of thick, black hair, drenched in rain-a flash of red, spilling, coating rock, mud, washed away in a torrent of hellish waters-
Beat. Beat. Beat. Beat.
Strong, steady, young, alive-glowing, orange, red-
Still alive, still alive, still alive...
Red. Red eyes, burning, blazing-terror, might, power-terrifying power-
Circles and markings in red, so much red, all red-
Black hair, tangling in branches, whipping through water and muck-red, red, red-
'Keep going, keep going, keep going-'
Orange light. Hope. Pulsing. Beating. Beat. Beat. Beat.
And then it let go. All let go, and there was no more red. No more pain. No more running, or water, or trees-all white, and warm...a cool, gentle voice, one last word, one last prayer, while reaching for all that peace and goodbyes-
'Astarte, blessed and watchful...'
A bright orange flash there, in the dark, in the great pane of black over their heads.
'SHE will bring their heavens down around them...'
Burning brighter than any other in their cluster of glittering white.
'Let them not be forsaken..."
The clouds split, his light, his youngest, brightest light, piercing through the bleak, heavy grey above.
'Let them be saved...'
He falls like a comet, wings incased in flesh, eyes knew and unseeing, heavy in spirit still, drawn down, called down, down, down, down...
'Let them be saved...'
New lungs take their first breath, bursting, burning, fires extinguished and ignited anew, ancient, battered, rembered-remembered-
The ground splits-cratered-exploding in rock and dirt-
'To the stars, Bowen. To the stars-'
"-GUH-!" Thunder shakes the stones around him, the lightening fading in a blink. His chest heaved, his body cold and sweating. The heavy rains outside seemed to roar inside the walls, and he pants, shaking, a sheet tangled about his legs, leaning on his hands.
...a dream. All a dream. A crack of thunder made him jump again, and he looked anxiously towards the high window in his chamber.
"Bowen..?" A soft hand touched his shoulder, and he turned to look into his wife's concerned face.
Bowen finally let a sigh and gently covered her hand with his.
"Did you have another dream." Kara sat up fully, her hand moving to drape across his shoulders.
Bowen wiped his face, nodding, and tried to will his heart from beating out of his chest. His wife moved closer, her other hand wrapping around his forearm.
"And here I was hoping to finally have a good night's sleep." His mouth quirked, his breath evening out at last. Kara squeezed his arm. He blamed the season. The day.
"As was I."
Silence settled between them. They both felt pain this time of year, but Bowen...his dreams had been fitful for some time.
"Tell me what you dreamt."
"...Two years, Kara." He murmered, staring holes into a bedpost. "Two blasted years, and I can't-..."
"I know, Bowen." She leaned her head against his shoulder. "I do not think I will ever stop missing him."
Bowen swallowed thickly, listening to the rain pelt outside. He would never voice it, not even in the quiet privacy they shared. But neither would he. Not a day went by when he didn't think of him. Felt his absence.
This day was meant to be one of celebration. Bowen indulged his people in their want to rejoice, personally planning a week long festival in honor of their revolution against Einon. He made merry, joined his rabble in drink and music. He wanted to celebrate. He wanted to them to be happy. But at night, his heart ate away at him-in night terrors and dark dreams. Many never made sense, as this last one didn't, but he knew-always knew-they were about him. Since their victory, no new monarch had been appointed. Many, if not all the townspeople, implored Bowen to pick up the crown for his own. He did not, but he stayed on as a Knight, a stewart, and led these people in honor of the code. Of Draco.
Bowen settled back into bed with Kara, his arm across her back, her head in the crook of his shoulder. 'It will pass with time', she had told him. Many times.
How much time needed to pass? How long until the hatred he felt for himself for swinging that axe would subside?
How many nights would he wake like this, his chest thudding painfully, haunted by memories and images he did not understand?
In his heart of hearts, something told him they meant something. Truly meant something, and it was all more frustrating that he could not figure them at all.
Something was coming.
And Bowen knew he was not ready for it.
It was some hours later, the peek of morning light obscured by the still hanging couds, that a guard, Simon by name, was making his rounds about the castle. All was still dark, dark as night as far as he was concerned. He was cold and wretchedly miserable.
While the thunder had since lessened, the rain was still coming down as heavy as ever.
Simon sighed heavily, trudging across the long wall, staring out into the abyssmal half-night. He wanted nothing more than to retreat inside the warmer castle walls, with some hot water and bread, beside the kitchen fires. The idea was becoming so tempting that he very nearly turned tail and headed in. Who in their right mind would be out in this mess anyway? Enemy or no?
Just as he was about to put his plan into action, he saw something moving out in the storm. He stopped and squinted through the rain, trying to make heads or tails of it.
It was small, white-possibly a deer or other some such animal. He nearly paid it no mind until he noticed it was coming closer. It was headed in a staggering but determind line for the castle. Simon moved to the edge of the wall and peered out in earnest, wiping water from his face. It came closer.
It was a man.
Anxiously, he scanned the area for any other movement, mouth open to sound the call but-upon further inspection, he saw no one. Not a soul.
The man was alone-alone in this hellish weather, and from the looks of things-he may have been hurt.
Rushing to the nearest tower, Simon alerted two other guards on duty, who in turn called to the men below them by the gate.
Simon rushed down to them, and by the time he reached them, the door was being pulled open.
The guards demanded of the oncoming stranger to state his business. He was a mature man, dressed in nothing but light breeches and a linen shirt. Shoeless, weaponless. His grey-dusted hair hanging around his pale face.
He reached the door at last. They asked of him again.
He promptly collapsed.
Bowen headed brusquely down the stone stairs, pulling an arm through the sleeve of his shirt-he barely nodded to the man who handed off his belt and sword, half-listening to the guard trailing beside him.
"-And he just fell apart, sir-he's asking for you by name sir, he doesn't seem dangerous, but-"
"Out of the way-" Bowen waved a few men out of his path as he marched into the courtyard and out into the rain. He could see his men on the ground with the newcommer, his teeth on edge. What if this was it. What if all these dreams led to this-a war, a plague-whoever this man was, he knew-he just knew-it tied everything together.
He ran half the way over to the fallen man and gazed down at him.
"I am Sir Bowen. What business do you have with me."
His men raised the half-dazed stranger to a sitting position, and he blearily opened his eyes at the knight. Their color-their bright, strange color-he had seen it only once before, and not in the eyes of any man.
The stranger seemed to try and reach for him, words dying on his tongue. Bowen kneeled beside him without a thought and reached for his arm.
"Who are you."
A weak hand lifted and covered his, the man's face staring up at him, unabashed, open with marvel and shock.
"...who are you..?"
The other blinked slowly, mouth parting in awe.
He then fainted dead away.
Bowen couldn't breathe. That voice. He would know that voice anywhere-a deep, heavy timbre he never thought he would hear with his own ears again, in this life or the next. The knight shot forward and cradled the man's head under his, lifting him from the ground and his other men. He hovered, mouth open. It's not possible. It wasn't possible.