~~My feet hit the muddy ground with a dull thud, and were released with a hiss like a snake releasing venom. The breath of my sisters tickled my skin, which was already burning under the scorch from above. Why we were forced to run in the first place was beyond; it wasn't as if we were in danger. Light rainfall had followed the early sunrise, and a pale rainbow was beginning to take form in the sky, just as it would on any other days in our land. I yearned to stop, to admire the beauty of the sky as I so love to do, but I had a duty, to protect Ardla, Fallon, and Espen, no matter what.
Taking the two youngest by their hands, I quickened my pace, heart pounding. I could hear Espen's sobs racking her body, and the sound pierced my mind like a needle. But I couldn't stop, couldn't comfort her. I didn't know why, but I knew I had to run.
We had to run.
"Come on," I implored, trying not to sound impatient. "We'll - we'll be there soon. I promise."
"But where are we going?" Espen asked in the young voice she owned, the only voice that could soothe Ardla when she was concerned. "Will Mother be there?"
"Yes," I lied, trying to stop the tears from falling. "Mother will be there, but we must hurry. Okay, Espen?"
Fallon glared from my side. Her hair, black like mine, was messy, framing her pale face the way the gold framed the portraits in our throne room at the Palace of Light. Her eyes were dark, like the coal burned to warm our hearts in the cold months.
“Stop lying, Kear," she said. "It really is not very believable at all, for someone with even only half a mind.” I felt my smile slip, the way the sun slipped down over the horizon and gave way to the moon and stars of darkness.
“Fallon, be quiet,” I said quietly, not daring to look at Espen. "You do not know what is happening, so I cannot hold you to account for that, but I promise you, Mother will be there." Though I knew myself I was a liar, I wouldn't let myself think of the truth, wouldn't let myself get side tracked, stolen by my fear. "She will." I was speaking more to myself than my sisters.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ardla tense, heard her calling to me, “Stop!”
A creature emerged from the darkness, ink spilling over its gargantuan body, the very picture of death itself. My face grew hot, like a fire blazing in my cheeks. "Turn back," the creature said, voice devoid of emotional, "or I shall have to kill you, Birlans."
It spoke in the old tongue, the language of our grand parents, a voice hollow yet full of so much death. "I will say, once more, turn back."
"No." I turned to stare at Fallon. "We'll die anyway, so we might as well get it over with quickly."
Her eyes flitted to mine, and she tapped her nails to one another. I nodded as she continued talking, and I gathered Espen and Ardla behind me.
"Ardla, look after Espen for me. Find Ailsa if you can, she'll look after you, but don't stop running until you reach the next Kingdom. Keep yourselves safe."
"But what about you, Kear?" Ardla asked, furrowing her brow. "And Fallon?"
I sighed. "Fallon and I - we must fight this beast. I have to help, and you have to run. Please."
Tears began to form in my eyes, but I forced them away. I couldn't cry, not here, not now. "Go."
I closed my eyes and let my wings be spread.
Snarling, I lunged for the beast, a scream from Fallon piercing my mind. I paused to take her in my arms, pulling her wings to their full size as our Mother had taught my many years before. "Around!" I shouted to her, soaring above the ground.
The beast shrieked, a callous, murderous shriek, and it grabbed me in its cloak of darkness, veiling me from the light. I could hear Fallon's cry of fear, and my heart shattered, in sync with my mind.
I tore at the cloak, screaming as loudly as I could, trying to temporarily deafen the creature. It was a Darther, the ultimate weapon of the evil Kingdom, Arcan, and the only way to defeat it was to first deafen it, for sound was its only sense.
Fallon caught on to my idea, and screeched at the creature, which stumbled, as I tore free. I soared into the sky and plummeted to the Darther, a weapon held in my hand. I caught a glimpse of movement in the corner of my eye, the shimmer of a Birlan's sparkling eyes. The next thing I knew, the shimmer was gone, and the Darthr was dead, lying motionless on the ground.
My heart pounded as I landed, like an eruption shaking the ground I stood on with an ethereal roar. My wings beat against my back, a voice ringing in my ears, screaming in the blackened depths of my broken mind, hidden from me in the way that firewood is buried in a flame, unable to be reached. I could hear Fallon's shriek, but I couldn't move; my eyelids were drooping; my arms were growing heavy.
"Kear!" Fallon screamed, and her voice was like a knife to my mind. "Kear, we have to run! Now!"
I am pulled off the ground by my sister, and she pulls me along as she runs. "What are you doing, Fallon?" I screeched, though my words were stolen by the unforgiving wind.
"Can't you see? We're going to die! They're killing us!"
"So what are we doing? Running from a dignified death? Are you truly as cowardly as a man, Fallon?"
"I'm not running from my death, Kear! I'm running to my sisters! We have to find them!"
"What if they're already dead?"
"Then we need to find time to bury them properly! They're our sisters!"
"We won't have time! We have to survive ourselves!"
"If you think like that, Kear, then you may as well die now!"
Her words made my heart stop, my head spin. "What did you say?" I felt a fire in my eyes, burning me down to the bone.
"I said you might as well die now," Fallon answered, her eyes as cold as steel.
I was on the verge of responding, but just then a creature leapt out of the shadows and bounded straight towards us. Fallon shrieked again and began lashing out, but the creature wouldn't stop attacking. It snarled and roared and growled and its little red eyes pierced through my mind and broke it like a shard of glass. The monster raked it venomous claws across my cheek, and tore the skin off of Fallon's chest. She stopped screaming, and I had just started to.
But the monster was coming for me now, and I knew there was no way for me to avoid it.
"Child of the flame," the monster growled. "Your kind always are delicious."
"Wish I could say the same about you," I said with a small nervous laugh. "Apparently evil is a very popular delicacy nowadays."
The monster chuckled. "You are far stronger than your sister. Pity. I hate having to work for pathetic little younglings."
"You don't have to, if you don't want to." I inched closer, narrowing my eyes. "I could just kill you."
I stabbed the beast with a nail and bolted.
It wasn't exactly my best idea ever, but it did work - for a short while, at least. The monster screeched at me, but I kept running, running, running, until there was nothing there, until the inferno was far behind and nothing lay ahead but my interminable disaster. Casting a glance below me, I saw a sheer drop, with the ocean battering the white rock below. My heart pounds.
There was nowhere else to go now, nowhere else but death. I thought of Fallon, I thought of Espen and Ardla and our family, and I thought of the beast about to tear me apart.
As it happens, the beast didn't manage to tear me apart, which isn't entirely a good thing, because this cell stinks. It is also dark, damp, and crowded with even more wicked creatures. In addition to the koroi, ansels have begun to gather in the corner, their eyes glowing bright green, a contrast when placed next to the pale lilac of their native siblings, the 'kind' danaea.
I can hear footsteps running down the corridor, and voices wailing with grief. Normal for the Core; after all, many Human spirits are scared of flames. I wonder how long I have been in this cell for. It seems like an eternity, but I know somewhere from my mind that it had only been a short while, a couple of days, maybe five at the most.
But it doesn't mean I don't want to get out right now.
The voices are getting louder now, more urgent, merging together like a battle cry, screaming, shrieking, screeching of war. My head begins to ache, the way my legs would ache if they were ever broken. A strange smell wafts its way up my nostrils, a smell like burning roses, sweet but at the same time not, bittersweet, in a way.
My breath is shuddering, my lungs protesting against my chest. Fire sears across my vision, smoke engulfing me. I try not to choke, but it is hard, and my eyes begin to stream with smokey tears.
Light tries to penetrate the dark cloud of grey, but to no avail. It is growing closer to me, ready to consume me, ready to kill me. I don't have the will to scream. If whoever caused this is in hearing range, they will not be allowed to hear my pain.
"No," I have to remind myself, using my last few breaths to speak. "No pain."
I screech out my fury, and it reverberates against the walls, breaking down the barrier of smoke. I smile to myself, feeling myself grow to my true size, breaking free of my restraints. These beings murdered my family, let my world be destroyed, and I won't let them get away with it. They think they know me? They don't. They think they can control me? They are mindless fools.
The cell shatters, and there are more screams, but I block them out, my rage ripping a hole in the heart of the Core. An ethereal roar escapes me, and the fire is mine again, no one else's, but mine.
I am engulfed in the painted beauty of this world, pierced by the shards of blood stained glass. The cage of the Core strains against me, breaking and crumbling until it can't survive against me any more, until it is destroyed. Fire burns against me, but I pat it out. My hair changes to a crown of fire, blazing around me.
The Levellers stare at my form, as though only just realising the monster I am, the monster they could never destroy.
I don't know why they do this, why they tried to destroy me, why they had to try and destroy any of my kind when they were born from the darkness. Nothing they can do can stop my fury now, and even as my power begins to wane, I don't stop the flames, don't stop my revenge in its path. I will need to stop soon, but I don't want to, not after what they have done. Maybe Carlotta seemed to have changed since her beginning, but it can't be real, not after her past, the horrors she unleashed upon us.
My new life had been painful, more painful than breaking a wing, even more painful than having my family killed. Because I was made immortal by these monsters of chaos. My duty has been simple, but I cannot comply, cannot do what they ask of me.
They don't know who I am now, they don't recognise me, but I know who they are and I know what the have done and I will not rest until they are destroyed, just like how they destroyed my family.
With a cruel smile, I spread my wings, and I fly.