Sometimes doing your best is not enough.
It is what the cruel pain says, through the ringing in her ears. It is the sound of her magical barriers being shattered to pieces, layer after layer. It is her fight to the last fragment of power – for her blood still rushes to her face, her breath flows, and, as long as she lives, she is not giving in.
The shadow is still a long distance away, but it comes fast from the clouds, in poisoned rain. On the earth, Rao runs and cries in silence, stricken by death already. Life escapes her from her tears – because she knows she doesn't stand a chance, and if she doesn't, nobody else will.
Her prayers crumble in a low wail, different from spells, different from curses. She feels she won't have time to regret all the things she should. She will die like that – dirty, guilty and helpless.
It is almost there, too deep to see through. A blackness that freezes her. She collects her energies to bear the final blow. She is wise, though desperate – she knows she must prepare to feel a pain that will not end with her life.
When her eyes finally close, she begins moving. The mass flies, surrounding the place she so loves – it dwells in horror, it triumphs in evil, and turns beauty into cinders.
She feels the black grasp, torturing every inch of her corpse. Her flesh burns bright, smelling like cursed fires, and turns in something she cannot stand.
The skin, the blood, the fingertips and eyes – they burst in flames and change their hue, rearranged in a cruel pattern. The black waters wash her away, playing around with her very existence.
She is blinded now, but not from within. If her mind is asleep, her heart can see. She turns into the opposite of herself.
Rao is still far too conscious to bear all of this.
It is from ghostly eyes, wet and refreshed, that she first sees the horrid copy of herself. There is no longer a barrier to part her from the curse. Under her helpless gaze, her soul releases part of her power, gifting that shape with the illusion of life.
The darkened flesh turns into snow, the raven hair swells again. The dead branches that once were her limbs find their former shape. It looks beautiful – but it is not hers.
Without a body, without her senses, Rao feels herself trembling anyway.
A glimpse of red, and she is alone in the darkness. She does not know this place. Where did that jumble of monstrosities take her?
Her ghost drifts to the one feeble light she can see, next to the stairs. There is something lying at her feet. In a moment, she knows what it is – her clothes, her shoes, a pile of uncorrupted bones. Her remains.
Her tansparent tears never meet the ground.
She kneels to embrace her own frail skeleton, praying herself to sleep. Against her breathless words, the curses fade from the corpse. The bones turn white, her garments go back to their colour and their shape.
When the traces of evil are gone, she knows what she must do. Even in death, weakened and broken, she remains a priestess.
Rao sits close to what is left of her, and starts waiting for the One to come.