It was hot, hotter than Synairn. Demons of various sizes and shapes surrounded me. They spoke in a harsh, guttural language that was so different to the soft, musical Synari that it took me a moment to realise that I could understand them. And they were mainly discussing how best to eat me. I summoned magic into my hands, hoping to be able to fight my way out of the ring of demons that surrounded me. They parted like a knife parts soft butter, but not because of me or my magic. Two silver haired boys stood there. Identical in every way, they looked to be a couple of years older than me. One raised a hand, beckoning to me. I nervously followed. Now that the immediate danger was gone, I took in my surroundings. A scarlet sun stained the sky with crimson light. The ground had been baked and burned until it was black and cracking. Crude stone dwellings turned the dirt into haphazard streets. On a slight incline was the only vaguely civilized looking building. A temple made of some sort of black stone. The twins leading me were odd in their own right, with long shaggy silver hair and silver eyes with skin pale enough to rival mine.
There was a rising feeling of dread the closer I got to the temple. Something in my blood recognised it. My magic hummed happily through my body, revelling in the heat. Inside the temple, the corridors were made with the same black stone as the outside, although torches lined the walls, casting flickering shadows and gleaming red on the twins' silver hair. We passed several more demons, although they all shrank away at the sight of the two boys. I wondered who they were to be so feared. I kept close to the twins, afraid of this strange place, of the demons looking at me as if I was the next thing on the menu.
The further we went into the temple, the more I felt as if I was in a maze. The twins navigated easily, knowing exactly where they were going. I followed like a foal follows its mother, unable to do anything else. I was lost in this place. All the corridors looked the same! We eventually reached our final destination. The chamber was huge, as big as the Senate Chambers back home. Here, the black walls glittered in the torchlight and, sitting on a throne carved of black wood, was Karthragan.
He looked nothing like the wolf in the demon book. He looked almost human. Pale skin with black hair that flopped into his eyes, the tips of horns protruding from the mass, obscuring one pair of his eyes. He looked nearly normal. Not how I imagined a demon to look. But I knew him. I could sense him. A dark presence the exact copy of the one in the back of my mind. He looked down at me, a girl in black lost against the black floor. In the blink of an eye, I found myself pinned to the wall, his hand around my throat, up more close and personal than I ever wanted him to be ever again. His four red eyes gleamed under black hair, narrowed as he sniffed at me.
"Wolf," he growled. I struggled against his grasp. I couldn't focus enough to use magic and he was so much stronger than I was. He raised a finger, a finger tipped with a fearsome claw. With one quick swipe, he carved a deep gash around my right eye. I screamed. The pain gave me the focus I needed. In a single blast, I managed to send him flying half way across the room. I fell to the ground but scrambled back up to my feet. Clamping a corner of my cloak to the wound, I glanced around, looking for a place to run and hide. From somewhere outside the chamber, chaos erupted. About the prince being bested by a girl, about the girl being marked as his, about a winged horse. Merlas! They had to be talking about Merlas. Demons didn't breed pegusi and she would be the only one who would come and find me.
A furious bundle of fur, feathers and teeth burst into the room. I dashed forwards, using my magic to lift myself up onto her back. Without any hesitation, she leapt into the air, giving Karthragan a kick to the chest as he attempted to grab hold of her. As soon as her hooves left the ground, the chamber vanished.
We arrived in the stables, back in Synairn. Without even pausing, Merlas carried me to her stall where I slid off her back, my cloak still clamped to the wound. Merlas folded her limbs beneath her, lying on the feathery ground and dragging me down to lean against her side. Dust started to irritate the wound. I sobbed, scratching at it, ignoring the pain as my claws tore into my skin. Nosing my hand away, Merlas set about licking the deep gash clean. I relaxed into her touch. The touch of a mother to her child. Each gentle rasp of her tongue helped me to calm myself, to stop shaking. The sound of feet running down the aisle jolted us both from the moment of tenderness. Merlas quickly covered me with a wing, hiding me from sight. Armen appeared, breathless, wild.
"Did you find her?" He asked Merlas. The doe carefully lifted the wing. He breathed a sigh of relief. Reaching out a hand, he helped me to my feet. "Come, Shadow, we can keep you out of sight with your mother until we can send you to another dimension to hide in."
Armen took me through the outskirts of the city to a small house where a lamp burned with a silver flame. He knocked three times on the door. It opened immediately to show a pale-looking Arellan. She wrapped me in a bear hug so fierce I thought my bones would crack under the pressure. Ushering Armen and I into the house, she quickly shut and barred the door. Only then did I realise that there were tears tracking down my face, that my limbs were still quivering in shock. Arellan knelt down in front of me, rubbing my arms in reassurance.
"It is ok, Alexai, it is ok. It is over now. He cannot hurt you. You are safe."
I stayed with my mother for nearly a month. I had been away in Aspheri for nearly a week, according to Arellan. Time passed differently between the dimensions. Arias now knew that I was no longer in Aspheri and regular patrols of the City Guard searched the streets and houses. Armen thought it better that I didn't go to see Merlas as he didn't know who he could trust in the stables. I missed her terribly. He and Arellan had found a dimension I could go to, and Armen was teaching me several languages I may have to speak to be understood. When the patrols came round to search Arellan's house, he took me to the Great Library. He said that it was in another dimension, the one I was going to be moving to, but I wasn't allowed to leave the Library to see what it was like outside. Armen didn't want me to leave his sight. I settled down into some semblance of a normal routine, learning with Arellan and Armen. She taught me about cultures and showed me how to meditate so as to keep my emotions under control. Armen taught me languages and how to defend myself. I never wanted that time to end. But all good things must come to an end.
He came late one night. Arellan was just tucking me into my bed when he knocked on the door. She ruffled my hair, saying that it was probably just Armen coming back without his keys. I giggled quietly, snuggling down under the blankets with the cuddly wolf toy Arellan had made for me. I listened to her start to walk down the stairs. It felt as if an icy hand had touched the base of my spine. Something was wrong. Armen never left without his keys. If he did, he simply teleported into the house. There was something seriously wrong. I slipped out of bed, following Arellan. I paused at the top of the stairs, watching Arellan cross the floor towards the door. I watched her open it. Her scream pierced the air. She slammed the door shut again.
"Arellan!" I yelled, running down the stairs to her.
"Alexai, you have to run. You have to get away. Far away from here, okay?"
"What is happening, Arellan? Who was that?"
Only one word, one name escaped her lips: "Karthragan."
The door exploded in a single burst of black flame. The creature of my nightmares stood there. Arellan screamed at me to run. She turned to face Karthragan. I have never seen a sight so beautiful yet terrifyingly deadly at the same time as Arellan preparing herself for battle. Her white magic created a wind that circled only around her. Her black hair floated around her head in an angel's halo, her robes billowing against her body. A fierce angel. The Messenger Angel. But even her white magic was no match for Karthragan's determination. I couldn't leave her to fight alone.
I raced back towards her, calling up my own black magic. I threw bolt after bolt at him. Nothing made any difference. Arellan begged me to flee. I couldn't. I couldn't leave her to face him alone. Not when I knew what he had done to her. What he had done so that he could continue the prophecy. I ducked a bolt of his magic, retaliating with one of my own. He turned his attention fully to me, ignoring Arellan completely. I dodged another bolt. But I hadn't realised he had shot two. The second was so close. I couldn't move. My eyes were fixed with terror on a flash of light that could end my life. A blur of white masked my vision.
"Arellan, no!" I screamed. Too late. She fell to the ground with a thud. A black scorch marred the front of her robes. I knelt beside her, shaking her shoulder. "Arellan? Arellan, please get up!" The room blurred as tears clouded my eyes. Why wouldn't she respond? Her blue eyes were staring at the ceiling, unseeing, uncaring. From somewhere far above me, Karthragan's cruel laughter echoed. Arellan's robes turned red. Anger boiled up within me, surging through the dam that held my emotions back. I didn't care. I didn't care about anything. I didn't care about keeping my magic under control or not being noticed by the Senate. I cared for vengeance. Vengeance for my mother's death. Arellan, who had done nothing wrong. I straightened up. A growl scraped the back of my throat. Karthragan raised a hand to strike.
"You are no match for me, Wolf. Tonight, the prophecy ends."
Unleashing a feral snarl, I leapt at him. A shimmering black portal opened behind him as I barrelled him backwards. The portal closed, sealing him on the other side. I blinked until my vision returned to normal, kneeling beside Arellan.
"Arellan? Please, Arellan, wake up!" I begged, shaking her shoulder. Her head rolled limply to the side. With my vision blurring again, I crawled under her arm, snuggling up to her body. Beneath my cheek, her robes grew wet as her ice cold hand cradled me to her.
Sometime later, Armen burst into the house. He scooped me up into his arms, running back out into the streets. I screamed, clawing at him to let me go back to Arellan's side. The shoulder of his robes tore beneath my claw-like nails, but it didn't deter him. He strode into the stables, not stopping until we reached Merlas' stall. The doe shot to her hooves, nuzzling my hair.
"What has happened, little one?" She asked in deep concern. I said nothing, clinging onto her mane as I tried to breathe through my sobs. Armen threw the saddle over Merlas' back, quickly doing up the straps. Disentangling my hand from her mane, he hoisted me up onto the doe, grabbing the guidance strap and running out into the field.
"Shadow, it's time for you to leave. To go to that other dimension. Now that Arellan is gone, you will have no protection from the Senate. You will be blamed for her death. So run. Run as fast as you can. Stay close to Merlas and she will protect you." He handed me a satchel, reaching up to hug me one last time. Pulling back, he slapped Merlas on the rump, sending her forward in a full gallop before the jarring transition to flight. In a single flash of light, she flew through a different night's sky.