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The drake was getting tired and I gave the command for him to land. As we had gone further north the air had gotten colder. Snow had begun to appear in patches where the sun didn’t touch the ground. Then the snow began to cover the ground and only plants poked up. We had landed near the ruins of what looked like an old castle. I had never been this far north, the ruins were new to me.
The drake lay down on the ground. The fire inside him melting the snow under and around him. Steam curled up in whisps to be blown away by a sudden wind. I pulled my cloak tighter around my shoulders wishing I had brought the greatcoat but normally the warmth of the drake was enough. If I was wise I’d have stayed near him but the castle intrigued me. The main building was only a few crumbled walls in the shape of the building it had once been.
My attention was drawn to part of the castle on its outer southern edge. It looked like a garden that had once been behind high stone walls. The walls had crumbled and fallen to only waist tall but the wooden door was oddly intact and preserved. I could see over the wall into the garden. Trees and shrubs were dormant, wildly overgrown, and snow covered. I try to think that the reason I did not climb over the wall into the garden was that I was in a gown. Being so hasty to follow my man to his death I had not put on the riding pants, and had not even bothered to saddle my drake. Poor thing had tried his best not to burn me by keeping his fire small, but when he grew tired he got hotter.
The door opened easily, inward. The garden through the door appeared different that it had over the wall. It was dark in the garden, the snow was gone. I looked back over at my drake, smoke poured upwards from his nostrils and little bits of flame licked over his lolling tongue. His legs twitched as if he was dreaming he was moving. The ground had hardened and cracked under him from his heat. Falling snow melted to rain, then became steam as it neared him.
I stepped into the garden and looked up. The sky was black with the bits of twinkling light that were stars or gods or spirits of the dead. The moon was full and large. The snow was gone, and the air motionless. It was cold still, the grasses and shrubs black. Blossoms on were open but they two were black. I turned to leave the garden, it was cursed, I could feel it. The door behind me was gone. The walls were tall, well over my head, and not a single loose block. Across the garden in the moonlight I could see the door. I would have to run across the black garden to the door. Run I did.
A screech like a banshee halted me. I crouched next to a tree, only halfway across. The trunk was as cold as ice. Walking towards me from the side of the garden were two women, only they weren’t women. They were shadows with sustenance, tangible darkness. I wasn’t even sure how I knew that they were women. They were the two of his agents, the shades of warrior women, trapped in the garden with me. Both carried a massive axe that would have made a strong man grunt to lift. The axe was made of the same component as the women. It was darkness, but it was deadly.
They stopped moving, one cocked her head, the other crouched low to the ground. A frightened rabbit leapt from the grass. It was as normal looking and full of life as I was. A poor little brown thing and it darted away from the women. One swung her axe in a great arc. The axe passed through the rabbit in mid leap. The rabbit did not sever into pieces, did not bleed. Not a single nick in its furred skin. It fell dead to the black grass. The woman who had struck it knelt next to it and brushed her hand across its fur. Light glowed from the rabbit, a screaming light that hurt my ears. The light rose, I could feel its terror, and it was sucked into the woman. The woman had devoured the poor rabbit’s soul. The rabbit turned as black as the grass it lay upon. My only way out was the door and I had to run for it.
The women spotted me as soon as I moved. One hissed at the other, then I dove to the ground. An axe swished over my head in the empty air. I would have been cut in half by it. I rolled, remembering two women, another axe fell down, to have cleaved me in half verticle. The second axe was embedded in the ground. It didn’t make sense, the axe had passed through the rabbit, but now it was stuck. The woman silently tugged at it. I jumped to my feet. The first woman brought her axe around, the second woman was between me and her. It was as if the first didn’t care. She swung her axe and sliced through the second woman. There was a wail and the second woman vanished. Her axe still stuck in the ground. I was no warrior but I grabbed the axe handle. It was so cold my fingers and hands that touched the axe numbed but I felt empowered. I pulled the axe free, my hands felt nothing more than dullness at the end of my wrists but I held the axe. My hands looked to only be holding shadow.
The first woman swung again. I lifted the axe as if it weighed nothing and blocked her blow. The axe handles did not clatter and I was not jarred. The axe I held in my hands simply stopped her axe from cutting me. She swung again and again I brought up the axe to block. I stepped back, allowing her to push me back towards the door. My wrists were becoming numb and I could feel the coldness slipping up my arms and chest. The numbness was following it. My fingers had turned black, the black creeped up my hands and followed the numbing. The longer I held the axe, the more I became what the woman I was fighting. It was the axe that was making me a shade, and yet the axe was preventing me from becoming this shade’s dinner.
I felt the door behind me. Blocking each blow I attempted to open it but it seemed stuck until I remembered it opened into the garden. I shoved the woman backwards. In all the fighting she had not spoken, had not even grunted. She just relentlessly swung at me with her axe, trying to nick me. For I knew that just a cut, just a scratch from her blade would kill me as dead as that rabbit. My chest and neck were becoming numb, the blackness had spread across my hands and up my wrists into my sleeves. I couldn’t watch its progress anymore. I only knew that it came after the numb.
I turned and pulled the door open and fell into the snow. White, innocent snow, the drake snored loudly, his entire body awash with flames. The door slammed behind me. Trapping the woman and her axe in the garden. I stood and looked about. The sun was setting, and the garden had looked like before, snow covered, crumbled walls. I had been in there what felt like minutes to me had been most of the day. My waist and legs were going numb, my head was cold, but the numbness hadn’t spread upwards from my chest, it was going down first, taking the last of my limbs. I tried to let go of the axe. I didn’t need it anymore, but my fingers did not obey the command for me to let go. My hands wouldn’t drop it.
I fell to my knees and cried. All I had wanted to do was to find my betrothed and bring him home safely. It was the dream that had brought me here. The dream that he’d become a servant of the Demon Lord like those two women had been. A fire burned in my chest that he would not know me, would not love me. A flood of tears came that I could not wipe away because of the axe in my hands. I would not bear his children, and the line of Sovann would end with him.
“I’m sorry, my love,” I whispered to the blowing wind. My face had gone numb and my clothing had turned black. Someone had trapped those demons in the garden and I had let one out by becoming it. The fire in my chest burned so hot I thought that my clothes would burn up to ash. It was my love, my compassion, my hate, anger, and regret. I knew that I, Virginia del Amorgana, would kill Wulfric mon Sovann.