Chapter Seven

‘Celintra’

 

 

The devil is a woman.

 

 

 

            The entire thing was chaos really. Hadn’t these people ever heard of organization?

            The woman shoved her way past a few more people robed in blacks and silver. It would seem she was the only one who still had her hood on after escaping the wind outside the mountain’s cavern.

            It was a good place to hold a massive meeting of the minds; this cavern. There had been a series of tunnels and caves from the mountain’s summit twisting and turning until one finally reached their destination. The cavern was humongous; surely there were over five-hundred people in attendance. Tables had been set up with food and drink for them to gather around and socialize with one another, telling of the latest unicorn slaying or the newest spell on the market.

            Towards the back of the cavern, the rock had formed a natural stage. There, upon seats of onyx and near pillars of platinum, sat the high commanders of the Order of Darkness.

            Fools, the woman scowled to herself, shifting the long bundle wrapped in white cloth under her arm. The hundreds of candles that had been set to light the meeting hall wavered for an instant under her frown.

            Before anyone could take notice of this newcomer, the man in the stage’s center held up his hands for silence, his long black robe glistening with each movement he made. As the masses quieted down, he stroked his long gray beard in patience, waiting for the moment to speak.

            “Members,” he began in a booming voice, “I have called this gathering to discuss the future of the Order. For years upon years we have been cast out of the Temples, prosecuted for our magical tastes. But no more shall it be tolerated!”

            The men and women cheered, save one, who only adjusted her bundle and cloak.

            “I, Kyott, will not stand for it!” he raged. “The light mages have tried to snuff us out of existence, yet they have failed! Darkness has triumphed, and all that is light shall be crushed and consumed.”

            The woman frowned her pale lips once again in the usual manner. This man is pompous. The first thing a magician learns is that in order for magic to function properly, some of the light must be spared…

            “And so, I say to you…” Kyott trailed off in a low voice. The magicians waited impatiently for him to say the words that were desired; the words that were needed.

            “We shall fight!”

            The roar of approval and delight made the cavern shake. Hands of jeweled rings and magical bracelets were thrown up in honor of this man who had taken the Dark Arcane and perfected them.

            “I am the strongest magician there is,” Kyott continued, stroking his beard. “With me, I promise you victory!”

            She had finally had enough.

            <<So… You think you are the strongest magician?>>

            The people stopped cheering, looking around in confusion. This was telepathy; a voice heard not by the ears but by the mind. Such a spell on a mass group level was hard to achieve.

            Kyott’s eyes narrowed at the feminine voice that dripped with mockery. Over the whispers of amazement he shouted, “And who is to say they are stronger, elf?”

            There was a slight chuckle and the woman’s lips twitched into a smirk. <<So you aren’t as stupid as you sound, it seems.>>

            Kyott closed his brown eyes in concentration before locating the voice’s source. His eyes snapped open as he lifted his hand, black obsidian staff flying to his palm. “Watch your tongue!”

            A bolt of dark lightning came from the staff’s tip and Kyott directed it towards the mystery woman. Just as the bolt came five feet away, sending other people diving for cover, a blue sphere formed around her, protecting the caster.

            “So,” Kyott admitted, “you have a good defense after all.” He watched as the woman’s sphere twisted and turned sending up rocks and dust from the ground in its gale. The ball lifted it’s occupant up above everyone’s heads and floated her over to the stage, landing neatly across from Kyott.

            The orb disappeared as she spoke. “I wish to engage you in a battle of strength and the dark magic.”

            Kyott’s fellow council members behind him laughed quietly at the cloaked woman. Only a fool would dare to challenge him. The man merely frowned in frustration at having his speech interrupted so rudely. “And who would you be?”

            She shifted the bundle to her left hand, removing the hood with her right. “Celintra.”

            This elf was rather tall, with white hair that was cut short and seemed to stick out behind her head. Her dull purple eyes shone with a love for malice. A black skirt with ruffles, laced boots, and a top with straps and tie-up back set her apart from the other casters in the cavern.

            “My, what a pretty name,” Kyott mused.

            “You won’t forget it.” Celintra threw off the sheet from her bundle revealing a long wooden staff with a spiraled part at the top, as if a vine had wrapped around it. “My staff.”

            “Indeed,” the old magician looked the elf up and down one last time, sizing up her magical aura. “Let’s see if you have what it takes. If it is a battle you want, I am compelled to comply!”

            The elf smirked.

            “Humans are very predictable creatures.”

 

 

 

“My feet… they hurt!” the little girl whined, tears forming at the edges of her violet eyes.

            “I know, but we have to keep walking,” the older girl cast a glance behind her. “The bridge… It should be up here soon…”

            “I can’t see it… There’s too much fog,” the little one protested. “Can’t you cast a spell to make it go away, Celintra?”

            The other laughed. “Some day… I cannot fully control the weather now though.”

            “I wish I could control the weather like those old mages do. Then I’d make it so it never rains again!”

            “You can’t do that.”

            “Why not?” the young lass pouted and ran a step to keep up. “The rain’s so ugly and it makes people depressed!”

            “Even so, Evangeline,” she explained calmly, “it’s necessary.”

            “Huh?”

            “Rain gives the flowers something to drink so they don’t die.”

            Evangeline frowned. “I guess so…”

            “It is a necessary evil, if you want to call it that… Now keep up with me, the bridge to the forest should be coming up here soon. We’ve been walking by the river for a while now; there’s no way we’ll miss it.”

            “Evil isn’t ne’sary, Celintra,” Eva stuck out her tongue.

            “Quiet,” Celintra stopped walking.

            “What’s wrong?” The young half-elf bumped into her sister’s legs.

            “I can smell kobolds; keep close to me,” she whispered, knowing it really wouldn’t matter, since kobolds have such excellent hearing.

            A light drizzle began to fall as Evangeline shuddered, and pulled closer to her older sister.

 

 

 

            Celintra licked her lips, the last waves of excitement and power coming to their end. It had been a good fight; one that would be remembered by those who had seen it and where now fleeing from its end. Of all the battles she had partaken in, this one had been the first to truly test her magic. But like the others, it ended the same.

            She had won.

            Celintra smirked as the final magicians retreated from the great cavern in a panic at seeing their leader slain. Soon no one was left, save her and Kyott’s corpse lying at her feet.

            “You were a good magician,” she said as she knelt down to the figure, eyes rolled into the back of his head. “I must say, I feel a little guilt for killing the head of the dark magicians. Now who will lead their army against the white mages? Bah, it’s no concern of mine.” Celintra set her wooden staff down on the stage of stone and reached behind her belt for the ceremonial knife.

            It was a foot long with a silver handle, the blade shaped like a scimitar’s. Little pentagrams decorated the hilt and a dragon had been carved into the handles. “Even if you were the one who created the class that I am a part of,” Celintra continued, even though no one else would have heard, “I do not care. I got what I came for.”

            The white-haired woman took the knife and slit the elderly throat, blood spilling onto the ground. When she got to the spine, the knife heated to a brilliant orange and seared right through it for a clean cut separating head and body.

            “I’m sure some rats will find use for your carcass,” she held up the knife, watching as all the blood flew away magically, and then sheathed the clean blade. “Your head is all I need.”

            The magician picked up her staff and stood, the open part of the head facing her feet. “You never asked me what kind of staff I had; perhaps that was your downfall, old timer. This is no ordinary wood. It is the wood of a banshee tree, grown deep in the heart of Ginger Forest. Humans can’t see it, elves prefer not to know it’s there, and demons cower in its presence.

            “It almost killed me, that tree,” Celintra’s purple eyes narrowed. “My mother once told me its lore, saying only those with the most advanced magic could defeat the dead spirits that resided in the tree for thousands of years. I almost became one of those lost souls; but I was stronger than the tree. I took its branch and made it my own staff.”

            The woman in black positioned the tip of the staff towards the gory neck, the wood beginning to dance with green energy. “But every staff needs a focal point, such as a gem. But why buy a ruby or some flawless diamond when I can think of something even more powerful…”

            The staff began to extend to the neck, sucking up all the blood that it could reach. It entered the neck and pulsed vibrantly, taking in all of Kyott’s blood. His skin began to shrivel, eyes turned into dust, and his hair blew into nothing. Eventually, all that remained was his skull. The staff gave one last burst of green before roots sprung out of the staffs tip, going back out through the open jaw. One by one the little roots pushed and picked patiently against the outside of his skull until each formed a little hole, digging into the inside of Kyott’s cranium.

            Celintra gave a satisfied smirk as the last one embedded itself into his brain, like the sound of feet crunching snow.

            “Now I am the most powerful magician.”

 

 

~*~

 

 

            Evangeline sighed.

            “What’s the matter?” Maroshi asked. Ever since they had gotten into Berryshire and settled down at an inn for the night, the cleric had been most lethargic in nature.

            “Oh nothing,” Eva forced a tired smile. “The rain just gets me down, that’s all.”

            “Ah,” Maroshi nodded. “It should let up by morning.”

            Maroshi felt a tug at his elbow as the party reached the top of the stairs. “Our room’s down this hall,” River nudged him to the right.

            “Oh, ok.” Maroshi waved to the two women. “See you for dinner downstairs!”

            “Yah, yah,” Tabitha nodded, then as an afterthought to Eva said, “How oblivious is that child?”

            The blonde girl looked down the opposite hall to see River slip his arm around Maroshi’s waist as the samurai chattered on heedlessly about all the things he was going to eat that night. River laughed when the list came to unicorn and bopped him on the head.

            Eva frowned, eyebrows coming together slightly. “Maroshi doesn’t seem to notice anything, so I’ll have to agree.”

            With that, the two turned down to their own room in a slightly less-friendly manner than the samurai and his friend.

 

 

           

            They were surrounded; that was for sure.

            An ugly kobold with only one eye inched closer to them, and Celintra considered her options…

            Behind them was the river, and there was the possibility that she would have to swim them to the other bank. Unfortunately the rain had picked up, and so had the current. Not to mention she wasn’t sure if her little sister could swim.

            The bridge could still be some ways up stream; the chance of her outrunning a pack of kobolds with Evangeline was slim to none. That left the magician with one choice.

            Fight.

            “Stay behind me, Evangeline,” Celintra ordered. The young girl nodded and inched as close to the riverbank as she could to get far from the kobolds that had surrounded them.

            “Alright,” the elf shouted. “Come fight me and die!”

 

 

            “You awake?”

            Eva blinked, looking away from the window washed with streaks of rain. “Sorry. I zoned out for a bit… Didn’t hear you come in, Maroshi.”

            The samurai smiled. “No apologies necessary! I just came to give you that cup of tea you wanted. The keeper said they don’t serve jasmine so I got you honey instead, though I’m not sure why since honey’s pretty much on the other end of the tea spectrum, so now that I think about it maybe I should go get you green tea or…” Maroshi stopped his run-on sentence, noticing how Eva had turned back to the window with a glazed look in her eyes. “Eva?”

            The cleric started once again. “Er, sorry. Just set it on the table beside the lamp, Maroshi.”

            “Ok,” the man did as he was bid and cast a quick glance back over to his friend.

            She had turned back to the window.

 

 

 

            Outside of the stone wall of Berryshire, shrouded in a cloak of black, and pelted down by the steady rain stood a figure. Across its shoulders was a long bundle wrapped in a soaked white cloth, one end slightly rounder than the other.

            The person stepped over a muddy puddle and into the town.

 

 

 

            River grumbled and laid a card on the pile. “Sheesh, how long does it take to give a moping cleric her tea?” He cast a short look to where the innkeeper and his son sat at the desk, going over the check-ins for that day. His wife had gone to bed after brewing the tea for Maroshi.

            Dunno,” Tabitha shifted in her chair, taking a second look at the ace of spades River had played. “Hey, hey, hey! You can’t do that! Only cards with the same suit or number go on top of each other!”

            “Bah, this is a dumb game,” River removed his ace off the six of clubs. “They were both black anyway.”

            “It doesn’t work that way,” Tabitha muttered and set her hand on the table, waiting for Maroshi to return so he could take his turn. “He’s taking too long.” The redhead looked towards the stairs. The last of the patrons they had seen in the dining room earlier had already retired for the night.

            “Yeah,” River grinned. “Let’s give him all hearts and put the rest of them on the bottom of the pile.”

            “You’re evil. Let’s do it,” Tabitha cackled, wildly searching through the deck.

            The two were sitting in the lobby when the door opened making the sound of rain hitting the muddy streets louder. River looked up to see a dripping black figure approach the check-in silently.

            “Make sure you don’t have any hearts in your own hand,” Tabitha reminded.

            “Oh yeah,” the young man looked back to the table. “Hey, give the both of us all spades so we don’t have to draw!”

            “Ho ho ho!” Tabitha grinned like a wolf, not noticing as the cloaked person walked past her towards the stairs. “How long into the game before he figures it out?”

            River rolled his brown eyes. “Are you kidding me? Maroshi never figures anything out, even if you hit him across the face with it…”

 

 

 

            Evangeline was astounded that her sister had grown so powerful. Still, she was nothing compared to the elders or Mister Hue, but this was amazing none the less. The last time the half-elf had seen her sister cast a spell had been a year ago; a simple summoning of some bread. But now…

            Celintra’s fingertips glowed red as another mutt charged. Before the monster even got eight feet near, its skin smoked from the mage’s lightning spell. Celintra was about to take out another when she heard her little sister scream. She turned towards the river.

            A kobold had crawled into the banks and actually swam around behind them to get to the little girl. Driven by hunger and the need to kill the beast had been able to brave the current. With a snarl it lunged at Evangeline.

            “HYAH!” Celintra aimed her hand at the charging kobold and it burst into flame, falling dead only a foot before Eva’s feet. The little girl sobbed and fell to her knees as the creature burned and charred before her young eyes.

            Celintra turned back towards the remaining kobolds, but not quickly enough. The one-eyed beast who had been hanging towards the back had finally charged, gaining its ground while the magician’s magic had been occupied. Eva gasped as the scene caught her attention.

            Celintra had no time to cast any spell, so she gave into instincts. Her right forearm went up to block her face from the creature’s attack. As it’s fangs sunk into her skin she snarled in pain.

            “Celintra!” Evangeline cried out in horror at her sister’s attacker. The few remaining kobolds howled in delight at the elf’s agony.

            The kobold’s weight made Celintra topple to one knee, hitting the rain-soaked ground harshly. The creature was about to release and go in for the kill when Celintra’s eyes flew open and stared his one with a look of insanity.

            “Stupid dogs,” she muttered.

            Suddenly, her arm cracked with energy, sparks flying up and down it. The kobold tried to let go of the elf, but found himself paralyzed by the electricity. The bolts and sparks intensified until they finally blew the monster clean off, sending his smoking corpse into the other kobolds. Those kobolds took one look at their fallen comrade, the strongest of their pack, and began to run.

            “Where do you think you’re going?” the elf asked a little breathlessly. Turning her head over her shoulder, Celintra pointed two fingers of her left hand at Eva. The little girl gasped as she began to float in the air, twelve feet above her sister and the ground.

            Looking back out across the land, parting the fog with her mind, Celintra spotted the remaining kobolds. She hovered her injured hand over the damp earth, and began cast the same lightning spell.

            Evangeline had never seen anything quite like it.

            The entire ground sparked and flared with magical electricity. It blasted and radiated all from her sister, killing everything it touched. Celintra’s arm was washed in the gold from the lightning, though growing redder by the second from the damage inflicted upon herself. When the magician was sure the few kobolds were dead, she recalled the electricity, noting at how the grass for a quarter of a mile had all been turned black…

 

 

 

            Maroshi sneezed as he shut the door to the cleric’s room.

            Eva and Tabitha’s room had been the very last one, and the wall to his right had a window that illuminated whenever a splash of lightning hit the sky. Thunder followed a streak of white causing the samurai to jump slightly. When he turned to the left to go back downstairs, what he saw almost made him jump again.

            Illuminated by candlelight was a person dressed in black with a ghastly white bundle in their left hand. In the right was a room key; the person’s room was only four away from Eva’s. As if the person could feel Maroshi’s amber eyes upon them, they turned, another flash of lightning through the hall’s window bringing light to their face.

            From underneath the black hood, Maroshi could make out a set of purple eyes that scowled at him, white bangs offset by black star earrings, and a very displeased frown.

            Before the samurai could apologize for staring and being so rude, the woman unlocked the door and retreated into her room.

           

 

 

 

            “Your arm!” Evangeline bounded over to her sister the second she floated back to the ground.

            “It’s nothing. We should get to the bridge before any more distractions arise.”

            Eva gaped at what her sister called ‘nothing’. Celintra’s arm had been torn to pieces and dripped blood onto the charred grass. “Let me heal it, please?”

            Celintra stopped walking. “Heal it?”

            Eva ran up to her sister, pulling her down to sit on the grass in front of her. “I can! Hue taught me how to.”

            Celintra’s face softened just a bit, not noticing when her sister’s hands began to glow a light pink. “Hue…”

            The half-elf moved her little hands up and down the injured arm, thunder rumbling in the distance. Even in the rain with the stench of death and blood Evangeline did not loose her concentration. Minutes passed, and finally she was done.

            “There! I hope it feels better…”

            Celintra looked at her arm. The blood had gone and nary had a cut or scratch remained. “That’s impressive,” the magician flexed the appendage as she stood.

            “Really?” the young girl’s violet eyes widened. Celintra never complemented or praised anyone unless they truly deserved it.

            “Yes. Now hurry,” the elf turned away and began to walk up the riverbank. “I think I can just make out the bridge through the fog.”

 

 

 

            Maroshi scratched his head and looked at the cards in his hand one more time. “Wow, who dealt this one?”

            River coughed.

 

 

 

            The bridge was just a huge slab of marble that connected the Plains of Luke and Ginger Forest to each other. The little Rocky River may not have been very wide, but it was deep and without the White Bridge would have been difficult to cross. No side rails or support beams were on the marble; it was only a long rectangle connecting point A and point B.

            The sisters walked quickly to the marble and Eva’s eyes widened at what she saw. There, crossing the bridge was Hue in his armor and a dozen elven soldiers marching behind.

            Hue!” the little girl ran up to meet him, not noticing Celintra hanging back on the grass. “What are you doing here?”

            The startled cleric knelt down to the child and smiled. “I’m looking for you! You had your father very worried, running off like that. He sent a lot of guards out to search for you, and I decided to help them.”

            Evangeline’s eyebrows knotted together. “But I had to find Celintra and tell her to come back home. I miss her!”

            Hue’s crystal eyes lifted from the young girl on the bridge to the elf standing on the grass. The rain softened its downpour a little as Hue arose to stand.

            “Celintra,” he started, “it’s good to see you.”

            The magician said nothing.

            “I assume you helped Evangeline find her way back to the bridge,” Hue continued, ignoring Celintra’s silence. “I thank you.”

            Celintra’s voice was so cold and hard that Eva hardly recognized it. “Just think of it as repayment for taking care of me for when I was starting out. Now we’re even, Hue.”

            It was the cleric’s turn to say nothing.

            Celintra turned and began to walk back towards the Plains of Luke when Evangeline’s voice stopped her abruptly.

            “No! You can’t go back there! Come home with me! I miss you!”

            For a while nobody spoke. Celintra’s back was still turned to the guards and Evangeline, Hue’s crystal eyes boring into her. Rain poured down from the gray sky and thunder sang its song. The river’s rush was so loud that the half-elf’s teary words were almost lost in it.

            “Don’t you love me anymore?”

            Hue glanced down at the child whose eyes were reddened and stared hopefully at her sister’s back. Had it not been for the rain all over her face, perhaps Celintra would have seen her tears…

            Finally the magician turned with a mocking smirk on her face. She locked eyes with her younger sister, speaking to Evangeline and no one else.

            “If I see you again, I’ll kill you.”

 

 

 

            Eva sighed, shutting the door behind her. She really should make herself sociable, even if the rain did get her down.

            Or at least go downstairs and get some more tea.

            The cleric fidgeted with the mug in her fingers as she cast a glance out the hall’s window. I hate the rain. Even if it does make the flowers grow, it still makes me sad for some reason…

            With a sigh, she turned and took only a step down the hall before stopping. The door to the room four down from her own opened, and a woman stepped out. She really didn’t look all that familiar; her hair was white and cut very short, which was odd for an elf--Eva had noticed the ears--who usually wear theirs long. Not only that, they didn’t wear so much black. This woman had on nothing but, even her cloak that covered her shoulders was dark.

            The woman slipped the key into her pocket and looked up, eyes locking with Evangeline’s.

            The cleric dropped the mug on the wooden floor, porcelain shattering into pieces.

            “Celintra?” she whispered, face completely pale.

            The elf was equally as shocked, but recovered quickly. Her purple eyes narrowed, mouth etching into a frown. Suddenly, the elf sprinted towards Eva with such speed it was hard to follow.

            Celintra caught her dumbfounded sister by the left shoulder and waist. Time seemed to slow down and her frown transformed into a smirk.

            “So good to see you, sister.”

            Celintra did not slow her speed as she slammed Evangeline into the window, causing the glass to shatter and break.

 

 

 

            The three card-players looked up.

            “What was that?” Tabitha murmured.

            “It sounded like glass breaking,” Maroshi answered and stared up at the lobby’s ceiling.

            River slipped an ace into his sleeve. “Yeah, I guess so.”

 

 

 

            Eva felt the window give against the force of her sister slamming her into it. The cracking glass sounded like tiny bells to her ears, and the cleric went numb. The only thing she could feel was the glass giving away into air and rain with Celintra’s nails digging into her bare shoulder.

            It was an odd thing, falling out of that second story window, her long-lost sister being the cause of this action. Evangeline’s violet eyes were still wide at the very thought. Hue’s warning about her sister wanting to kill her echoed in Eva’s mind, but was replaced with Celintra’s own voice, that memory of a rainy day in the Plains of Luke…

            If I see you again, I’ll kill you.”

            Time must have slowed down for all these things to drift in and out of the half-elf’s mind. Things came back into their normal perspective as she hit the muddy road outside the inn with a splash and a thud.

            Evangeline gasped for air, feeling some of the shards of glass cutting into her back and mud seeping into the wounds. Thunder and lightning crashed as her eyes focused in and out, trying to get her bearings straight.

            Slowly, Celintra pushed herself up from her sister, smirk still present, and she glared at Eva’s temporarily paralyzed form. “Now, now… Did you forget what I last said to you?” The magician traced a finger down Evangeline’s jaw, wiping away some of the rain that continued to pour.

            Dimly she heard Celintra’s voice, but Evangeline concentrated on gasping for air and not falling into the blackness she was sure meant a concussion or worse.

            “Perhaps I’ll have to remind you,” Celintra murmured, and took her hand from the blonde’s face. Raising it up parallel with her shoulder, the tips began to glow red, zaps of static coming from them. “Good bye, Evangeline.”

            Yet before the magician could strike down her sister with the spell, something slapped her hand down to the ground, sending the blast into the road. Mud splattered as Celintra swore, her hand stinging from being struck by some object. With malice in her eyes she stood, turning around to face the inn.

            There, standing out in the rain were three people. The two farthest away were a redheaded woman and a blue-haired boy in a fighting stance. But before them was a young man with amber eyes giving her a cool look, sword drawn.

            His tone was flat and even as he spoke. “The next time, I’ll use the sharp side.”

            Celintra spat. “And who would you be?”

            The black-haired youth nodded to Eva, who was beginning to stir. “Her friend. And you?”

            The elf smirked. “Her sister. I win.”

            Maroshi’s eyes widened. “You’re Cel—“

            Before he could get out another word, the magician was upon him. She slashed up with her right hand, a purple beam appearing from the movement and flying towards Maroshi. Quickly, he blocked the beam, the St. Clare glowing as they collided and the purple thing vanished.

            Celintra scoffed at Maroshi’s astounded look. “A magical sword? This will be annoying to deal with indeed…” She leapt at the samurai, fists glowing a bright purple in the night.

            Another beam appeared and Celintra grasped it like a sword, putting Maroshi on the defensive. The magician was not as skilled with a weapon, but the uncertainty of facing a magical attack put the samurai at unease.

            River ran over to Eva, mud splashing as he fell to his knees beside her. “Eva! Are you alright!?” The boy helped her to sit up, noticing the glass scattered around her.

            “Quick, heal yourself,” an adult voice said behind them. River looked up to see Tabitha kneel down behind them. “Eva; heal yourself.”

            The cleric looked through glazed eyes at the woman, but seemed to comprehend. She closed her eyes, humming softly to herself. River stared in wonder as the girl’s entire body shimmered in a soft pink aura. Eva’s eyes slipped closed, hands falling into her lap as she drifted off into concentration.

            The boy glanced over to where Celnitra was hacking away with her purple sword, Maroshi parrying and dodging every blow. Could they really be sisters? Two people who seem so different…

            The wounds on Eva’s back began to close, blood washed away by the rain. Tabitha nodded to herself as the final one healed, standing to observe the fight going on in the background. She’ll be ok...

            Celintra stepped back nimbly from Maroshi, the phantom blade dissolving into nothing. “I can see you really know how to use that thing. I’d enjoy playing with you a little more, but there is someone else who demands my attention!”

            The mage turned wildly to Evangeline, a purple orb forming in her palm, cracking with static and electricity. River’s eyes widened as he saw the thing hurled to where he and Eva sat, coming closer with alarming speed.

            “NO!” Maroshi yelled, but it was too late. Celintra had cast the spell.

            Suddenly, the orb veered off course and smashed into one of the inn’s walls. A long knife was pinning it to the wood, sending splinters everywhere. The orb thrashed about, still held to the wall. The knife glowed a soft green, and the orb sizzled into smoke.

            “Now what!?” Celintra turned in a rage to where the knife had come from. There stood the redheaded woman, her left hand clasping a similar blade to the one in the wall. “Who the hell are you!?”

            Tabitha gripped the knife tighter, staring hard at the mage. Thunder sounded before she spoke to Celintra. “This girl is on a quest.”

            Celintra’s eyes narrowed as she stepped closer to the woman, ignoring the other three people out on the road. “A quest? And what does this have to do with me?”

            “She is to participate in a tournament. Not only her; the samurai you just fought is to be there as well.”

            Celintra’s eyebrow shot up, but she said nothing.

            “Furthermore,” Tabitha continued, “this tournament has been set up by some very important people. Should anything happen to their contenders, I doubt they would be very pleased.”

            The mage’s purple eyes narrowed in slight curiosity, but mostly spite for having been delayed in killing her sister. “I said… Who are you? Now I am most intrigued to find out…”

            Tabitha sheathed her knife, turning to fetch the other. “I am just a drunk.”

            “It would not be wise to turn your back on me,” Celintra hissed at the woman’s foolishness.

            “I expected such a remark,” Tabitha muttered and grinned to herself as the knife came free of the wall, Celintra well out of earshot.

            The magician stalked over to where her sister still sat in a daze, glowing in the after-effects of her healing spell. Before she got ten feet within Eva, a blade pressed itself against her throat.

            “Don’t try to get any closer,” Maroshi growled over the rain. He shifted the St. Clare a bit, pressing lightly against her neck.

            “Props for getting close to me,” Celintra continued to stare at Eva’s glowing form, “but you forget that casters have a defense system.”

            Before the samurai could say another word, he felt a tickle in his hand. It spread all through his body like fire, paralyzing him stiffly. His amber eyes shot open; this was a spell!

            Celintra pushed the St. Clare away with two fingers, smiling at Maroshi’s gasp of pain. “Silly swordsman.”

            As she continued to make her way towards Eva, River blocked her path. His brown eyes glared angrily at her, hair sagging down under the weight of the rain. “What did you do to Maroshi!?”

            Celintra looked the boy up and down. “My. What determination you have. It’s impressive. I’ll tell you what,” Celintra pointed back towards the frozen samurai. “That friend of yours probably won’t last much longer without air, what with his lungs being paralyzed and all.”

            River’s eyes widened.

            “So you have two choices,” Celintra checked them off on her fingers. “Either stand here and try to block my path, ultimately resulting in me killing you, or the second option. Run over to your little friend and cure his paralysis around him.”

            River looked quickly back to where Eva sat staring at the soggy ground, but there was never any doubt where he would go. The boy ran to his friend still frozen from the spell, leaving the path clear for Celintra.

            “Shit,” River muttered as soon as he saw what he was up against. Maroshi was frozen stiff, unable to move a muscle. “I’m gonna punch you, Mar. Don’t mov--… Well that’s a stupid thing to tell you…”

            River curled his fingers down, the base of his right palm angled out. “Hyatta!” The boy smashed his palm into Maroshi’s chest, aiming for the one spot that would cure his paralyses.

            He had hit it. Maroshi gasped for air, thankful River had paid attention that day in the Temple of Tiger. He fell forward, River catching him and the St. Clare. “Eva… We have to stop that woman…”

            “It’ll work out,” a voice said.

            The two looked over to Tabitha. She was standing under the covered porch of some dark house beside them and across from the inn. Her green eyes stared down the road to the two sisters, focus intent on what was about to happen.

            “How can you say that!?” River yelled. “That woman--! She’s insane!”

            “She won’t kill Evangeline,” Tabitha remarked but did not turn to face them. “Watch. I am sure of it.”

            They did as they were bid, and Maroshi sighed tiredly as River’s hands dug nervously into his back.

            He sure hoped Tabitha was correct.

 

 

 

            Celintra stopped before her sister. The half-elf looked up as if through a haze, though in the rain that may have been the case.

            “Poor Evangeline… It looks as if your healing spell is still repairing your spine. It will take longer if you sit up; don’t you know that?” Celintra stared down at her with nothing reminiscent of pity in her iron voice.

            Eva uttered no word.

            “Perhaps, knowing what I know now,” Celintra mused, crouching down to face her evenly, “it would be best if you forget this little… incident.”

            Eva continued to glow and stared at the mage wordlessly. Her large violet eyes were only half open, mouth still moving in silent words of concentration.

            “Yes,” Celitra mumbled, putting her middle finger to Eva’s temple. “Perhaps it would be best…”

            Eva blinked slowly, then passed out.

 

 

 

            There was a soft knock on the door.

            “Come in,” Celintra called out to the visitor. She turned the page of the book she had found in the inn’s tiny library, not too sure why she was reading about different types of trees and nature walks.

            She had to kill time somehow.

            “Celintra?” Eva poked her head around the door. “Tabitha and the others are ready to leave; they’re waiting outside.”

            Celintra did not turn to the door, nor look up from the desk. “Go on ahead without me. I’ll catch up with you all later.”

            “Oh, ok,” Eva frowned at her sister’s back. “Will you know the way?”

            “Yes, yes, of course,” Celintra waved a hand in the air, scattering the dust that floated about in the room’s sunlit window. “Now hurry or they may leave without you.”

            “Alright, I’ll see you then,” Eva shut the door slowly, waiting expectantly to see if her sister would offer a ‘good-bye’ of some sort.

            She didn’t.

           

 

 

            “Damn it!” Maroshi’s fist connected with the stone wall, cracking the smaller rocks to pieces and dust. “How can we just let her get away with doing that to Eva!?!”

            “Sometimes that’s just how it works, kiddo,” Tabitha looked back through Berryshire’s southern gate, seeing if Eva had come back yet. “At least the cleric’s still breathing.”

            “That sister of hers is pretty psycho,” River folded his arms across his chest. “All casters aren’t like that, right?”

            Tabitha grinned at the blue-haired boy. “Nah, River-kun. There are some who can be the best folk you’ll ever meet.”

            “Here she comes,” Maroshi wrung out his hand, easing the sting. He tried to control the anger and not let it seep onto his face; Evangeline would have been able to tell if something was bothering him.

            “Remember,” Tabitha murmured to the young men, “don’t say a word about it. She can’t remember anything before waking up exhausted in the lobby...”

            River nodded, while Maroshi glared at the sky.

            “Celintra says she’ll catch up,” Eva waved to her traveling companions. “I know it may seem like that’s impossible, but I’ve seen her do some pretty amazing things!”

            Maroshi’s amber eyes narrowed even more, but he turned away and began to walk up the forest’s hilly path before the cleric could say anything to him.

            Eva turned to River who had fallen into step with her. “What’s his problem this morning?”

            River cocked an eyebrow at the cleric. “What do you remember from last night?”

            “Last night?” Evangeline blinked.

            “Yeah,” River looked around to make sure Tabitha was up ahead far away with the samurai. “At the inn, when you ran into your sister.”

            “Oh, that,” Eva smiled to herself. “I met her in the hall… and I think she may have… hugged me? It sounds dumb, but I really can’t remember!” Eva stuck out her tongue in embarrassment.

            River nodded slowly, looking down at the dusty path. “Yeah… Tabitha said you were pretty sick and tired… Maybe… Maybe that’s why.”

            “I suppose,” Eva shrugged. “The only other thing I can remember is Celintra carrying me up the stairs to my room… I tried to get out of her arms to walk the rest of the way, but she told me to stay still and just let her put me to bed.”

            River’s eyes widened a little. He truthfully had no clue whether that part was true or false. After Evangeline collapsed they had all returned to the inn, except for Tabitha. He had gone outside to look for her (the woman had slipped on the stairs and almost knocked herself unconscious like the klutz she was) and left the others inside.

            “I wish I could remember it though,” Evangeline sighed, her voice quieting down. “That was the fist time I had seen her since… Since a very long time…”

            River looked up at Eva and finally felt some pity for the girl.

            “I would have liked to have seen the look on her face, River.”

 

 

 

            A figure dressed in black stepped out of the inn, blinking hard at the sunlight that shone down this morning. People had not yet begun to rise from bed; it seemed Berryshire was a very lazy place indeed. The person shifted their cloak, revealing a wooden skull-staff in their right hand.

            As silently as they had come from the inn, the person began to levitate into the air until they were even with the inn’s broken window in the second story. A black dot the size of a pinhole formed within their shadow cast upon the damp road. The oily blackness grew until it filled the entire shadow, rippling and trapping the sunlight that dared to touch it.

            There was a high pitched noise, but the person paid it little heed. Glass windows began to shatter; the screams of people jumping out of bed at this strange noise could barely be heard over it. Suddenly, the pool of oil shuddered.

            Rats.

            Black creatures with beady red eyes, long whiskers, and skinny tails began to pour from the shadow, going wherever they could to get out of the way for more of their brothers to escape the shadow. The vermin were thin, deathly so. One could count their ribs if they cared to try.

            The figure gave a short laugh as the first hungry creature found a victim; an old woman just coming outside to see what the noise was.

            That’s right… Feast.

            <<For us?>> the rats asked.

            <<For you,>> the person answered. But it will be your death as well.

            The vermin began their attack, eating everything and everyone they could find. The people of Berryshire screamed in horror as the sound stopped and the feasting began.

            The one in black shifted to see the first rat explode. It had eaten so much of the old woman’s carcass that its stomach just couldn’t handle any more. One by one the rats exploded, only to be replaced with another of its brethren fresh from the shadow…

            She laughed.

 

 

 

            Tabitha stopped in the middle of the path, face paling to the color of flour and snow.

            “Tabitha?” Maroshi turned back to his companion. “What is it?”

            The black-haired man started as Tabitha’s eyes turned cold and hard, looking back up the path to their destination. She brushed past Maroshi, not making eye contact.

            “It’s nothing.”