Far beyond the wall that separated the city from the rest of Aether, beyond the dividing point between dark and light, a dusty trail wove through the black hills.
The trail had been carved by the passing of many feet, both human and animal. A flock of birds sat in the center of it, pecking away at the grain that had fallen from a cart that had passed by, pulled by a tired old mule.
One of the birds, a black dove, picked up its head and closed its eyes, listening to a far off sound. When it opened them again, it flew upwards with a shriek for a black stallion was bearing down on the flock.
The birds scattered in a black flurry from the horse for fear of being stomped upon by its large black hooves.
The stallion’s rider snapped the reins, urging her mount forward. Fury blazed in her eyes, for the one she was meant to wed had decided to run off on some hare brained adventure in enemy territory.
“Idiot,” She muttered, crouching lower on Kalim’s back. Kalim snorted in agreement, picking up the pace of his gallop.
The rider’s name was Thyla. She was infamous for gaining the rank of commander years before her time. The blood of a thousand innocents stained her heart and the saddest part of it was that she simply didn’t care. She didn’t care about the children and women that had died by her hand from a knife through the heart. Thyla didn’t shed a single tear for the dead soldiers that would never go home because of her bloodlust. Others would pause over the body of their fallen enemy and ponder who they might have been. Thyla walked over top of them and smashed their skulls in with the heel of her boot.
The trail was becoming increasingly narrow. Thyla knew she would eventually have to slow Kalim to a trot and find a place to camp for the night. She glanced up at the sun, estimating the time by its position in the sky.
The wind whipped her coat out behind her, like a dark shadow was following her. The ends of the coattails snapped in the breeze, her hair snapping right along with them.
“I’m fed up with eating my own bangs,” She muttered, pulling back on the reins slightly. Kalim reared his head up, chewing on the bit.
“Come on you dolt, slow down,” She told him, rising to a sitting position on his back. Obediently, the stallion slowed to a trot, beating out a staccato rhythm on the ground.
The coattails fell to either side of Kalim’s haunches. With one hand, Thyla smoothed her hair back from her face, flipping it back over her shoulder.
“That’s better,” She told Kalim, patting his broad neck. He dipped his head up and down like he was nodding. Thyla smiled and guided him over to a tree by a pond. He slowed to a walk before finally stopping next to the tree.
“Steady boy,” Thyla dismounted next to him, groaning from the pain in her thighs.
She touched her toes, and then stretched her arms up into the air, listening to the satisfying crunch of her spinal cord falling back into place. Kalim gave a little snort, chomping on his bit.
“Alright, hold on a moment,” She slipped the bridle and bit from his mouth. The metal bar came away covered in saliva, “Gross,” She dropped it in the grass, disdainfully, and headed down to the pond to rinse her hands off.
She slid down the bank to the circle of water, hoping for clear water. Instead, it was a sickly grey color and teeming with tadpoles.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Thyla moaned, wiping her sticky hands on her denim riding pants. A black frog that sat on the bank uttered a low gurgle that made her jump back, startled.
“I hate the wilderness,” Thyla moaned, clambering back up the bank to Kalim.
The stallion had found a nice patch of dark grey grass to munch on and was content to stay where he was. Thyla faced the setting sun, “I’ll get you to come home Kin, even if I have to drag your dead body back,”
“Thyla Mekrosis,” Ari muttered, twirling a daisy about between thumb and forefinger. With the other hand he plucked a petal off, “Thyla loves him,” the petal floated down to the grass. Ari picked another one, “She loves him not,”
“Oh, shut up,” Kin moaned, sitting on the rock with his head in his hands. Estra had left minutes before, telling them that she had to take of her sister because her aunt hated children. Kin thought that she had to be something of a heartless woman for not loving the child her sister left her with when she died. Estra had told him of her mother’s demise and how Raxer and she were to be married. It was a horrible fate for such a lovely girl.
“Well, aren’t you even the tiniest bit curious if Thyla actually cares about you or not?” Ari asked him, tossing the wilting flower aside.
“No, actually I’m not,” Kin snapped, imitating Ari’s voice.
Ari threw his hands up in the air, “Don’t bite my head off! I was just asking…”
Kin growled low in his throat and turned away from his friend. Ari had always been his father’s favorite student. It was never his son that won the General’s affections – only Ari, his son’s friend, born to be an assassin.
Kin studied Ari’s black hood. It made him seem more mysterious than he actually was, the way the peaked part of the hood fell across his forehead and cast eerie shadows in the crevices of his face. There was a hint of stubble on his jaw where he hadn’t shaved in a while.
He realized his friend was becoming a man while Kin still felt like a child.
“I hope the flower arrangements are to your satisfaction Miss Moondance,” The woman with the strange hairdo told Estra, offering her a huge fake smile.
Estra smiled back, hers just as fake, “Oh yes, they’re gorgeous,” She replied, her voice sounding flat and uninterested.
They were in the old church in town, overseeing the preparations for the wedding on Tuesday. Aunt Lila was yelling profanities at the cake decorator, complaining that the icing wasn’t white enough. Estra thought it looked fine, but Aunt Lila was convinced that it had a mild sheen of grey. The poor man shrunk back from her, his quivering hands holding a cake decorating bag that was slowly dripping icing from its silver tip onto the white stone floor.
Estra was in something of a daze, watching the townsfolk bustling about getting everything ready. She was floating, not really awake, dreaming, hoping that she would wake up and all of this would be a nightmare.
Frindel was twirling around in her flower girl dress, swinging the basket that would eventually hold flowers – daisies actually. Estra had chosen them for the wedding because they were her favorite flower. Raxer was less than pleased at her choice, but she had paid him no mind. He was quick to anger, and she had decided that she would do what she pleased no matter what the cost would be.
A light struck the stained glass windows, blinding Estra where she stood for a moment. She shielded her eyes and stared up at them, mesmerized by the glow that was spreading in a spider web pattern. They were colors. She tried to pinpoint the names of the colors, but when the light passed from the window they vanished as quickly as they had come. She was left staring up at the windows, blinking stupidly.
“Hello my dear,” Raxer had snuck up behind her. He planted a kiss on her cheek, biting the skin with his front teeth. She shivered reflexively, resisting the urge to run from him.
This was her future whether she liked it or not.