I managed to keep this up for a month before Jamie started to follow me. Jamie, and an orange haired girl about the same age. She was the reason I knew Jamie was following me. She just couldn't keep her mouth shut. I soon learned that her name was Holly. A hurricane on a sugar-high in human form.
She came to me once, in the canteen, sitting next to me as if we were friends. I edged away as she attacked her food like a starved bear. She started to speak, a never-ending stream of questions while shovelling rice into her mouth. I gaped at her, trying to keep up as she asked me about every single personal detail under the sun, from name to favourite colour to species to family. Strangely enough, despite rocky beginnings and personalities that were so far apart they were polar opposites, she became one of my best friends. A friend I will continue to hold dearly in my heart.
Holly introduced me to Natalie, who she affectionately referred to as her 'smarter' half. Both sorceresses who used wands to channel their energy, they were blissfully unaware of exactly what I was. I, for my part, was perfectly happy to let them continue on in their delusion that I was completely human, like them, just a sorceress on a different level. Only Jamie knew, and he hung out regularly with us, getting up to the same shenanigans, but he kept it as a secret. I was glad he did. It saved several awkward questions, but ultimately, it would lead to their downfall two years later, but for now, they were my best friends.
Holly was a prankster. Thankfully, Natalie warned me about this early on, so I was always on the lookout for her tricks. Doesn't mean I didn't get caught out, but hey, she could have done a lot worse to me than adding Tabasco to my food. To her credit through, it was hard to keep a straight face around her. We stuck together like glue, the three of us. Even though she was deathly terrified of horses, she came to watch Natalie in our weekly pegasus class. Natalie stood next to Merlas and I on a pretty brown pegasus she had fallen for as we waited for the teacher to arrive. Holly leant on the fence, waving at us. Nat and I grinned, waving back. The teacher arrived, and the class groaned. We have two teachers for pegasus flying: Mrs Fletch, who is nice enough, although she can be a little absent-minded, and Mrs Steel, who is pretty much a drill sergeant and is unable to believe that her 'baby', a really nasty piece of work for a pegasus called Snowdrop, could do any wrong. Merlas had already told me about a run in she had with the white pegasus. Thankfully they had both escaped unscathed.
Mrs Steel strode out of the barn with Snowdrop prancing on the end of his reins, which she thrust at Holly. I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from giggling at the sight of Holly holding the pegasus' reins. She looked absolutely terrified and pissed off at the same time. But that expression evolved slowly into one I had grown to know and fear. She was plotting something. I glanced at Nat. She looked slightly scared as well. She must have seen the subtle glint in Holly's eye as the prankster started fiddling with Snowdrop's saddle. I schooled my face back into an appropriate expression when Mrs Steel reappeared, looking down at my hands in an attempt not to burst out laughing. Mrs Steel cast a disapproving eye over the whole class. I was waiting for a scathing remark from her, and she didn't disappoint me.
"I expected the lot of you to be turned out better than that. Sarah, your horse is filthy; Ira, you could at least have made an attempt to tame your hair; Natalie, I despair whenever I see you sitting on that poor creature; Shadow, I don't care if you own your steed, but there is no need for that cloak, it's ridiculous." I gritted my teeth, winding my fingers into Merlas' mane. Mrs Steel sniffed, grabbing her reins back from Holly without as much as a thank you. She started to swing herself up into the saddle. The saddle slipped, sending her into the mud. The entire class and Holly fell about laughing. I gripped Merlas' mane hard as I tried not to fall off her back.
I passed many a happy year at the Academy. Going to classes a lot stranger and more exciting than regular classes, avoiding doors that weren't really there, (courtesy of Holly), trying not to get too involved in the many food fights that broke out in the school canteen. I managed to get to my seventh year without too much of an incident. Of course, things started to go wrong in my seventh year. Very wrong indeed. And it started with Arias.
I was walking with Holly and Natalie, heading back to the dorms after a long day. I had had Magical Manipulation and combat practise that day. I can tell you, having those two subjects in one day is not a fun thing. I was sore all over and exhausted to boot. I paused. Every nerve ending in my body burned for a split second before I found myself face down on a marble floor. Oh, my head. It felt as if Merlas had seen fit to dance the fandango on it. I pushed myself to my knees.
"Welcome back, Shadow." Oh goddess, I knew that voice. I looked up to see Arias sitting on her throne.
"Why did you bring me back? And did you have to poof me out right in front of my friends? It's hard enough to keep a low profile!"
"Shadow!" Arias snapped. "You will not answer back. You will not ask reasoning. You will not take that indignant tone with me. I do not care where you have been for the last number of years!"
I bit my tongue to keep from making another comment. Instead, I got to my feet and bowed low. "Why have you seen fit to rip me from a life I was actually starting to enjoy?" Ok, so I couldn't stop myself from making a remark. I must have been hanging around Holly too much. Arias narrowed her eyes at me, but didn't tell me off.
"Synairn is at war again. We need you on our front lines."
"Oh no!" I clenched my fists, battling down my magic. "I battled for you once. I'm not going to war!"
"You will do as you are told!" I swear the white pillars shook with the force of her voice. I flinched. "You will report to the armoury immediately."
I had no choice really but to obey. I turned tail, striding out of her receiving room, my cloak billowing out behind me.
Synari scattered as I walked through the halls, heading down into the underground floors of the Senate Towers where all the weapons and armour were stored. I felt the genuine streaks of fear as they remembered who I was. Shadow Roth, daughter of the late Senator Arellan and Karthragan the Demon. No longer was I the frightened girl who hid in her room for fear of being the target of people's hatred. Years on Earth had taught me that you shouldn't cower. I was as strong as, if not stronger, than the Synari. I had nothing to fear from them. Then I felt a familiar presence. I smiled slightly. One of the many Synari stepped out from the horde and held out his arms.
"Armen!" I called, hugging him tightly.
"My, my, Shadow, how you have grown tall. I take it our beneficent ruler has brought you back for the battle?"
I pulled away from him. "Yes, she did."
Armen accompanied me to the armoury, where Rai still stood. He greeted Armen as an old friend before he cast an eye over me, nodding in approval.
"At least this time, the armour I give you will actually fit!" He said with a smile. I tried to smile back, but I think all I managed was a pained grimace. He said nothing more, digging into his piles of metal plate. I found myself, much to my dismay, outfitted in much the same manner as before. The leather shirt, although this time with a matching pair of trousers, with the plates covering shoulders, arms, torso, back and legs. He handed me a long scabbard attached to a belt, which I wrapped around my waist. I drew the blade, a heavy, unwieldy thing made for two handed swordplay. With another grimace, I sheathed it again. I clipped my cloak over my shoulders once again as Rai handed me a helm. I ran my hands over it, feeling the slightly dented metal of the helmet, which looked a little like the roman helmets I had seen in my human history book. I jammed it on my head before nodding once in thanks to Rai and heading out of the armoury.
I had never been out on the streets of Synairn on my own before. It was a curious feeling, as if I was a child doing something forbidden. I followed the rest of the armoured Synari out towards the plain, the same plain I had fought on before. I had to fight down the fear that threatened to overwhelm me.
"Demoness!" Someone called. I turned in the direction of the sound, reach to snap a retort. A troop of Synari mounted on pegusi watched me critically and, standing next to the captain of what I guessed was a unit stood Merlas, decked out in plate armour, a proper Synari pegusi saddle and guidance loop. I rushed to her side, hugging her tightly. The unit felt faintly amused. I pulled myself up into the saddle, strapping myself in.
"Listen up, demoness, here are the rules: obey my command to the letter, and you'll do fine."
I nodded once. The captain passed me a bow and quiver of arrows, saying that the "pointy metal stick" was only going to be of use to me if Merlas went down. I didn't like the sound of that. The unit moved out, heading for the plains where the battle would be held. For the moment, the Synari were alone, arranged in ranks. The pegusi unit stood on a small hillock, waiting for the signal from a commander standing with the foot soldiers. I have to admit, I couldn't see the Synari as foot soldiers. I couldn't even see them as soldiers. Never before in the history of Synairn had there been so many battles in such a short space of time. It made me wonder what Arias was up to, because this was not normal. I swallowed hard. Merlas shifted nervously beneath me. The captain glanced at me, feeling indecisive, sympathy battling with fear.
"Hey, demoness, just try to keep calm. There is no need to work yourself up." He paused for a moment, as if trying to find his words. "Try to see it this way: Would you rather be battling a horde of bloodthirsty monsters, or facing an angry Arias?"
"Monsters every time," I said before I realised that I hadn't actually thought about it. The pegusi mounted soldiers within earshot chuckled quietly. I bit my lip, looking at the captain. He was watching me with a critical eye that made my heart hit rock bottom. I had gone too far. It had been a test. It – One corner of the captain's mouth twisted upwards in a smile.
"You are not the creature we thought you to be, are you?"
I didn't know how to answer that one, so I didn't. He probably meant it as a rhetorical question. Instead, I looked down at Merlas' mane, hoping that the shape of my helm prevented too much of a blush showing.
"To coin a phrase I believe you use in your current dimension of residence, 'you're all right', Shadow," spoke one of the soldiers, giving me a light, friendly shove. There was an emotion there, echoed by all the other soldiers. I couldn't figure out what it was. It felt alien yet comforting, a familiar stranger. I realised I had sensed this before, from Holly and Natalie. Acceptance. They accepted me for who I was. For the first time in Synairn, I felt relaxed. At peace. We chatted idly for a few moments, most of which I spent committing their names to memory. Why had Arias locked me away all those years ago when all it took was for the people to see that I was still like them? She had said that the streets would not be safe for me, yet here I was, sitting on the back of a pegasus, making light of the coming battle with a group of soldiers.
From the plains of the upcoming battle, a great rip in the air spilled light onto the silver grass about to be stained with blood. Creatures began to spill from out of the gap, onto our plains. I chewed the inside of my cheek, trying to keep the anger from boiling over. Next to me, Captain Kildren swore in a steady stream under his breath. He glanced at me.
"Shadow?" He asked, nervousness not quite hidden in his tone. "We, uh, could probably use a distraction when we charge on them. Normally, any one of us could do it, but, uh, being a demoness, you could perhaps, uh, be a little..."
"Scarier?" Suggested one of the soldiers.
"Yes, scarier," the captain, watched my reaction carefully, looking a little afraid himself. I bit my lip nervously. I could appear to be in the throes of a demonic possession, but such an exercise was highly volatile, requiring me to only let a little of the demonic influence escape through the barriers in my mind. Everyone watched me nervously. The beginning clashes of the battle sounded below us. Merlas twisted her head around to nose at my boot. I let a half smile twist one corner of my mouth.
"Yes. Yes I can, and yes, I will."
Our unit took to the skies. I let Merlas fly as she saw fit while I tried to tap into the demon. It surged forwards. I clenched my fists, panting, trying to slow the advance. It was scary. As if I was truly in my body for the first time ever. My vision tinted red, doubling in focus. My teeth lengthened slightly. My claws grew. The soldiers watched me with fear in their hearts. I was more aware of the magic coursing through my blood. It would be so easy to obliterate the lot of them. I gritted my teeth. No. I wouldn't. I'd kill every single person in my unit before I even touched the enemy.
"Shadow?" The captain yelled over the winds, trying to make himself heard. I could still hear the wariness in his tone.
"It's ok. I'm still in control," I called back.
"Take point and scare the living daylights out of them!" I grinned, drawing my sword. Merlas brayed to the open skies as we began our dive towards the heart of the enemy's ranks. Black magic streamed from the two-handed sword. My hair and cloak billowed out behind me. My eyes glowed. Everyone looked up. Fear shot through the crowd. Then we clashed with them.
The battle passed in a whirl of blood and metal and the sickening resistance of bone and flesh beneath my sword. The blade was unwieldy, heavy and long. I had been pulled off Merlas long ago. My wrists ached. My shoulders shook. Exhaustion sapped at the strength in my mind. The demon was starting to claw free. And they just kept on coming. I stabbed another enemy through the throat, but my sword became lodged. I panicked, trying to free it. A sword pierced my back. I crumpled to the ground with a silent scream.
"Oh bloody hell, Shadow, can't you do anything right?" Came an irritated voice from above. All I saw was a flash of purple hair before my nerve endings started to burn.
I found myself face down on a fairly soft surface for once. My head hurt like hell. I could barely breathe through the pain of the sword still stuck in my back. Whoever it was that sent me away was going to get a good punch right in the face if I ever found them.
"Ohmygod, Shad! What happened?"
"And can you get off me please? Seriously, Roth, you're heavier than I thought!"
"Holl? Nat?" I asked groggily. That would explain the soft landing, if I happened to land on Holly. I groaned as I rolled off Holly. I managed to get to my knees, bent double over the blade. Natalie looked horrified. Holly, as usual, started her rapid fire twenty questions routine.
"What happened? Why are you wearing armour? Why are you covered in blood? Why..."
"Holly! Shut up, we have to get her to the medical wing!" Natalie insisted.
"Oh bugger," I muttered under my breath.