After Estra left the barn, Raxer followed her. He was as quiet as a mouse and quick as a fox, slinking through the woods to spy on her as she wept by the river side. Raxer took pride in his hiding, using techniques he learned for hunting. This time the game was more precious and far more dangerous.
He laughed silently at her tears. There was no need for this foolishness. She needed to give up and give in to his demands.
The sun sank towards the horizon, a white orb barely peeking through the overcast that hung over the land. It was becoming increasingly difficult for Raxer to see the girl as the sky grew darker. He lay flat on his stomach, inching forward through the undergrowth to get a better look at Estra.
A figure approached her. He suppressed a growl in his throat. That was his property, how dare that stranger approach her!
Raxer wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, confused by what he saw. The figure that was now sitting next to Estra was dressed illegally in black. Was that a black hat on his head as well or…?
Raxer could hardly contain his glee. A Nox! Now he would claim Estra as his bride! If he were to kill the intruder, the Sisters would have no choice but to grant him Estra’s hand in marriage.
She stood and walked away, waving timidly at the Nox boy who waved back. The boy stood there for a moment, smiling stupidly before closing his eyes and sighing contentedly. Raxer saw a moment of opportunity. He withdrew his knife from his belt and waited until Estra had vanished from sight. Lunging out from the trees, howling like a madman, his silver blade slashing the air, Raxer attacked Kin.
Kin, who had just parted ways with Estra, was in something of a daze from speaking to the white girl. He was more than a little surprised when a crazed Aether boy fell on top of him. Raxer pinned Kin to the ground and pressed his knife to his throat.
“Who are you!” He roared, spittle flying onto Kin’s face from his words. Kin was so frightened, he could hardly speak. The knife bit into his neck, white blood dripping down his neck.
“Tell me your name or tell it to Lumia when I slit your throat,” Raxer growled, digging the gleaming silver tip into Kin’s flesh.
“Alright,” Kin managed to get out.
Raxer released him and darted away, the knife pointed towards Kin.
“My name is –”
The handle of Raxer’s knife protruded from Kin’s abdomen. He looked down at it, confused as to how it got there. A wrenching pain coursed through him and he realized the blade was still attached to the handle.
“Goodnight,” Raxer told him all too cheerily. The world spun like a top and the stars went out one by one. He was vaguely aware that he had fallen in the river and was now floating on his back, the moon shining above him. The moon shrank suddenly into a pinprick of light before vanishing completely, leaving him in total darkness.
Kin awoke strapped to a white slab of stone in a strange building with prismatic stained glass windows. On the walls were white banners with a grey insignia that looked familiar somehow.
The ceiling of the building was the most interesting feature of the room, built rather like a cathedral. He had the best view of it because he was lying on top of the slab facing upwards.
His hands were above his head, chained to the stone and his ankles were also bound. The pain in his abdomen had increased sevenfold.
“Disgusting isn’t he?”
Kin turned his head towards the voices. A group of four women were entering the cathedral, walking up the main aisle between the rows of pews. They were dressed in white - white robes and white hoods.
“Sister Lyra, he is only a child,” Another woman replied. Sister Lyra laughed, “He is not as innocent as he appears to be. Do you see his uniform? This one is a soldier,”
Kin tested his bonds, attempting to break free but his struggles were to no avail.
“We must eradicate him before he curses us,”
He realized that the only way to break free was to break his thumbs. “I’m really going to regret this,” He muttered, bracing himself.
“Is he talking?” One Sister asked the other, a tremor of fear in her voice.
Kin cried out as his thumbs snapped. His hands slipped free of their bonds. Sitting up he unfastened the chains around his ankles.
The Sisters ran towards him. The one in the back tripped over her own robe and fell in a white heap. Kin laughed hysterically, leaping off the stone slab. He ignored the pain in his stomach and ran – straight into Sister Lyra.
“Sleep,” She ordered, punching him in the stomach. Spots danced before his eyes. He fell backwards, his head striking the stone.
Kin moved no more.
“I don’t understand,” Estra murmured, staring at the white blood on Raxer’s knife.
“Oh you understand don’t you?” Raxer grinned, waving the silver blade in front of her face. “I killed your little friend by the river. He won’t bother you again,”
Estra found herself in a state of shock. Her heart throbbed in her ears.
“He wasn’t dangerous –” Raxer cut her off, “I’ve told the Sisters and I have the right to marry you with or without your Aunt’s permission. The wedding has been scheduled for next Tuesday.” He turned and walked out the door, slamming it behind him.
Estra sank to the floor of her mother’s old room. Raxer had walked into her home and into the room as though he owned the place. She curled up on the old white rug and fingered the broken shards of a cup Raxer had thrown to the floor, breaking it into a hundred pieces.
Estra wasn’t feeling any of the emotions she had expected to feel at that moment. There was a hollow space in her chest as though Raxer had wrenched out her heart. He probably did, she thought, and ate it whole the monster.
In spite of her dilemma, Estra shed not a single tear. She told herself that she would not cry for Kin’s sake. She had only known him for a short time but that did not make her feel any better about his sudden demise.
Estra found herself in a meadow filled with white daisies. She was once again in the world of color.
Joy blossomed in her heart. She twirled around and around, her dress billowing out around her.
The green grass beneath her tickled her bare feet. She lay down amongst the daisies and listened to the sounds of the birds chirruping to each other. Rolling over, she found herself staring into the most brilliant eyes she had ever seen. It was Kin. He was lying in the grass next to her.
“You’re dead,” She gasped, reaching out both hands to touch his face.
He grabbed her hands, closed his eyes and shook his head, a smile on his lips.
When he opened his eyes again, Estra knew what color they were.
“Estra!” Estra awoke to see her little sister peering down at her.
“Frindel?” Frindel grinned and showed her a mouse which was curled up asleep in the palm of her hand.
“Isn’t he just the cutest thing ever? I’m going to name him Thrix!” Estra sat up. Her back stung from sleeping on the floor.
“Frindel how long have I been asleep?” She asked, unable to tell the time because there were no windows in the tower.
“Estra don’t you think Thrix is cute?” Frindel shoved the mouse in Estra’s face. The mouse, now awake, sniffed at Estra’s nose.
Estra pulled away. The mouse’s little whiskers had tickled and she had not enjoyed the rodents face being in her own.
“Yes, he’s very cute. What time is it?”
“Evening,” Frindel replied.
Estra stood and headed down the stairs, Frindel following close behind. It was a dark and treacherous journey down, but Estra knew the path well. She took hold of her sister’s hand and helped her so she would not fall.
If it was indeed evening, that meant it was now Wednesday. Five days until the wedding. Her heart quivered in her ribcage. A tremor ran up her spine. Estra knew what Raxer was capable of. She didn’t even dare think of what he would do once they were bound in holy matrimony. Her thoughts returned to her dream of Kin, his dazzling eyes haunting her even in her waking hours. Could it be that it was a sign? Could the subtle shake of his head mean he was truly alive here in the real world?
Frindel and Estra reached the bottom of the steps at last. Estra could smell something cooking in the kitchen. The scent drifted towards them, an aroma of something sweet and luscious.
“Lets go see what Aunt Lila is up to,” She murmured, more to herself then to Frindel who was still clinging tightly to Estra’s hand.
Kin tried to pry himself from Sister Lyra’s grasp. Her fingers were like ice clinging to his flesh. He noticed her nails were considerably long and were now digging into his arm, leaving pale white bruises on his grey flesh.
“Let go of me!” Kin roared.
He was being dragged by the formidable woman in white down a dark, damp tunnel that could only lead to some sort of prison. Every now and then, the darkness was illuminated by a torch which burned with a white flame. He had never seen white fire, and it fascinated him. The torches were attached to the walls with a silver metal that gleamed and twinkled in the firelight.
“Where are you taking me?” His fascination had suppressed his anger for now. The woman who had captured him had an aged look about her; to the untrained eye she did not appear a day over twenty. Her eyes were white, like Estra’s, yet not like hers at all. There was no iridescent iris, just white, blank eyes that lacked a pupil.
The tunnel opened up into a cavern of sorts. Along the walls were cells crafted of some kind of ivory metal that lacked any sort of shimmer or shine. This place was extremely old. Black rust had crept up most of the cell doors.
Kin shivered reflexively. Lyra dug her claws tighter into his arm.
Someone else was in the room with them. Kin sensed him before he saw him. There was the telltale feeling of eyes watching you.
A dark figure dropped from the rafters, landing in a crouch before him. Lyra drug Kin back from the figure, holding him tight against her as though to say, he’s my property, don’t touch him!
“Who are you? What is the meaning of this?” Lyra spat, her eyes narrowing to pale slits.
“Hello my lady,” The figure stood. He was clothed in a black hood, metal braces on his arms. The braces were decorated with foreign spiraling symbols. A familiar face peeked out from beneath the hood, a smirk fluttering across his lips.
“I’m not sure who I am, but I know what you will be,”
In less than a second, the man crossed the room and stabbed Sister Lyra through the heart. Kin drew back from her as she collapsed in a black bloodied heap on the white stone floor.
Kin was a little shocked at the murder of the Sister – but not as shocked as he should have been.
“Ari”? He flipped back his hood to reveal his face to Kin. It was indeed Ari, Kin’s close friend and personal assassin of General Ravenwing.
“It is good to see you my friend,” Ari sheathed his dagger in his cloth belt and embraced Kin.
When they broke apart, Kin observed that in his absence his friend and grown facial hair.
“What, this?” He stroked the partial beard comprised of a strip down his chin and raised an eyebrow. His comical expression caused Kin to laugh.
“I am a man now Kin,” He strutted around the prison with his chest out, head held high. Kin could hardly contain his laughter. “You on the other hand appear to be a boy with his head in the clouds, just as before,”
Kin’s face fell abruptly at this. Ari paused and frowned, “Sorry, did I go to far?”
Kin burst out laughing once more. Ari backhanded him lightly across the face in a teasing jester, “You stupid little-”
“Our Sister is dead!” Both Nox boys turned as one to see a young Sister standing in the doorway to the prison, her eyes as wide as saucers.
“Now would be the time to run,” Ari murmured. The two exchanged glances before running past the Sister who cried out, “Good heavens!” as they sprinted past her. Together, the assassin and the soldier made their way through the confusing labyrinth of tunnels. Ari led the way, knowing the path somehow. Kin followed, praying to Lumia that they would be able to escape this hellhole and see daylight once more.
“Come on Kin! It’ll be great!” Ari bounced up and down like a jack-in-the-box, his eyes gleaming with the promise of adventure. “I don’t know Ari…what if dad finds out?” The thought of the General scared poor little Kin. He had seen his father angry before and did not want to see him that way again. Kin was seven at the time and Ari was twelve. Unlike most seven year olds, Kin was a very quiet boy who hid his amazing intelligence well. His advanced maturity and Ari’s immaturity made them fast friends – mentally they were the same age.
“We’ll sneak in and sneak out before your dad even knows!” Ari cried with glee, leading the way through the thick black grass. Kin, not wanting to be left behind, followed his friend on his short stubby legs.
“Alright, but if we get caught I’m blaming you,” He grumbled, smacking the tall plants out of his way.
Ari merely laughed, forging ahead towards the walled compound. Inside said compound was a variety of dangerous animals including a panther and a rhinoceros. They were trained for war purposes if ever a war did arise as it had in the past. Kin’s father still told stories about how he rode a panther into the Battle of Urium.
The grass gave way to sand and Kin found himself gazing up at the impossibly tall stone wall.
“How are we supposed to climb that?” Kin murmured.
To his surprise, Ari had given himself a running start and was now scaling the wall with nothing but his own two feet.
Young Kin watched, his mouth open in shock, as Ari grabbed hold of the top of the wall and hauled himself up.
“Well come on then!” Ari called down in a loud whisper.
“I can’t get all the way up there!”
“Your loss,” Ari told him, disappearing down the other side of the wall.
“Wait! Ari!” Kin cried.
Kin ran around to the front of the compound, peering through the iron gate. Ari was in the center of the arena where the animals were trained – and a huge rhinoceros was bearing down on him.
“ARI!” Kin screamed, his knuckles turning white as he clutched the bars of the gate.
Quick as lightning, Ari dodged the oncoming monster and leapt up onto its back. The rhinoceros snorted loudly and began to buck wildly, attempting to shake the leech that was Ari from his back.
The creature was black with white horns. On its largest horn was a ring of metal adorned with black gemstones. Ari let loose a wild yell as the rhino bucked one final time before settling down, accepting that it could not shake its rider.
“Kin! I did it!” Ari shouted when he caught sight of his friend at the gate. He steered the rhino around the arena in circles, hollering a battle cry like a real warrior.
Unbeknownst to both Ari and Kin, the General was watching from the tower in the corner of the compound. An idea was quickly forming in his mind for the young Ari. He could use his spirit.
“Well. That was quite an adventure wasn’t it?”
Kin and Ari had managed to escape to the wooded area where Kin had made his camp. Kin did not respond to Ari’s comment.
Ari was sprawled out in the grass, twirling a white daisy between his fingers, being rather lazy while Kin made a meal out of a rabbit he had trapped.
Night had fallen, and the black fire illuminated the white clearing with strange shadows. When the boys had returned to the camp, the first thing they had been concerned about was Kin’s stomach wound. However when they went to examine it, they discovered that it had been healed somehow by the Sisters. They had unknowingly aided their enemy. Kin had assumed they had healed it, although now it was itching horribly and he was worried it was becoming infected.
“Ari, what are you doing here?” Kin asked, breaking the uncomfortable silence. He flipped the slab of rabbit thigh over. It sizzled on the small pan.
“Your father sent me to assassinate Sister Lyra. I found you in her clutches and decided to rescue you. Kill two birds with one stone, you know? I’d figured you’d run away to here anyway, knowing your strange fascination with Aether.”
Kin lifted the cooked meat from the pan to a flat rock next to the campfire. He took Ari’s dagger which lay next to him in the grass and sliced the meat in half.
“So what are you doing here, Kin?” Ari tossed the daisy aside, propping himself up on one elbow to accept the meat from Kin’s outstretched hand.
“I don’t like killing. You know that,” Kin took a bite from the rabbit meat.
“You killed the rabbit, didn’t you?” Ari countered.
Kin shook his head, “That’s different. It’s just an animal.”
“See, that’s the difference between you and me. I don’t kill animals. You do. I kill people. You don’t. How in the name of Lumia are we friends?” Ari finished his meat in a few quick bites. He laid back down in the grass, folding his arms behind his head and crossing one leg over the other.
Kin threw his remaining meat towards Ari. It landed on his stomach.
“Oh thanks,” Ari rolled his eyes sarcastically, throwing the remaining food into the bushes to his left.
Kin kicked his tall black boots off and curled up in the grass.
“Oh come on. Why are you so quiet?” Ari questioned Kin, reaching out an arm to poke him in the side.
“I’m always quiet,” Kin growled.
Estra observed her reflection in the mirror. The dress made her look thinner than she actually was. Then again, she hadn’t been eating much lately.
“Oh you look stunning,” The tailor crooned, fluffing the train of her dress. It was quite beautiful, the dress. But Estra despised it because it was, in fact, her wedding dress. How could she say ‘I do’ when her heart cried ‘I don’t’?
“Spin for me darling,” The tailor said, twirling his finger in a circle. She twirled for the man, slowly, no smile gracing her face.
The short tailor was dressed in a white suit with coattails, a frilly scarf draped around his neck. His white hair was slicked back with some kind of gel. His nose was abnormally long, and the overall effect made him appear to be some kind of exotic bird. Estra thought he looked funny but she kept her mouth shut – she did not wish to upset him.
“Gorgeous!” The tailor cried, clapping his hands together. Estra nodded, agreeing.
“What’s the matter sweetheart? Smile! It’s your wedding!” The tailor told her, patting her arm.
Estra stepped down from the raised wooden circle on the floor and disappeared behind the changing curtain.
“I don’t want to get married,” She admitted to the tailor.
“Oh dear,” The tailor murmured.
Estra stepped out of the dress, yanking the high heeled white shoes off of her feet.
“I hate him – the man I’m meant to marry,”
“That’s just awful!” The tailor sympathized.
“I am in no way a happy bride,” Estra slipped her white gown over her head and stepped out from behind the changing curtain.
“I’m so sorry,” The little man looked so very sad now. His greatest joy must be his customers happiness, Estra mused.
“But the dress is absolutely beautiful,” Estra assured the tailor. His face lifted a little, “You really think so?”
“I know so,”
He smiled, linking his arm with hers, “Come my dear, I’ll show you out,”
The tailor led her past racks of gorgeous pieces of clothing for all occasions. Scraps of fabric and pieces of ribbon littered the floor. At the door, the tailor bid her a wonderful morning, tipping his top hat to her.
Estra curtseyed in reply, smiling for the tailor. Inside, she was not smiling. Inside, she was crying.