Drowning, sinking. No breath reaches my lungs. Water surrounds me as I fall into the growing darkness bubbles escape my lips in a scream of terror. My brain screams for oxygen and as much as I fight to the surface my clothes drag me down, wearing a ball gown the fabrics cling to my skin even tighter, the skirts tangling with my leg kicks as I try to find the right way up...
Blackness. "Have you given her water? Food? She's going to waste away for gods sake! Somebody help her!" I frantically call out as I see her pale form swamped and shadowed beneath the bed sheets, it's the middle of the night and after finding out there was nothing we could do I'd walked around the palace in a frenzy until finally I forced myself to see her.
I'm walking my feet are bloody, my shoes long gone I fall to knees looking for water, my hair clings to me like ivy to a wall sweat raining down my face yet none of the moisture reaches my lips. I try to call out but my voice breaks from the dryness, no moisture, and no sound, same for my empty tears.
Darkness. I clasp my hand in hers clammy and fevered yet cold and dry, her eyes flicker and the tiniest thread of hope lifts me but I know it's only false hope as she cackles in my ears. Faline walks into the room and we exchange a concerned glare, the closest we come to agree on anything since our reunion. Dee's well being.
The corridor is long and whispering shadows surround me, a woman stands out in the open air on the snow covered ground. She turns and I gasp, my voice louder as it echoes from the desolate walls, she smiles that twisted smile. The snow clashes harshly against her yellow pallor making her look even sicklier, her hair hangs limply in dull black strands and her eyes glower menacingly as she expects my approach.
"Glad you could finally make it." her voice is sharp yet croaks as if it isn't used to speaking aloud. I shiver even though I'm wearing my winter coat glancing around quickly I recognise but can't place the tree clearing. "I suppose your here to save my Raphael." She gloats with a hard laugh, waving her hands shadows disperse from the edges of my vision and I turn quickly and hold back a scream, whimpering at the sight.
Rafe looked lifeless yet no blood surrounds him, his eyes open yet dead, dead flat gold. "Give him back." I say through my teeth holding myself back from running to him. If I step any closer she will spring the trap I knew I had walked into. She glances at him scornfully and walks to him, I hold in a scream as she bends down and pushes his dark locks away from his face she leans closer to him and kisses him slowly on the lips.
My heart stops in my chest and I fall to my knees. She makes the kiss deeper and he responds to her touch his eyes flaring molten gold as he brings her closer to him. A scream "No! Stop!" tears itself from my chest and tears slowly slide down my cheeks. She leans away from him a twisted smile on her thin lips, I glance at his eyes and they turn flat gold under her spell, "He's always loved me." she croaks almost adoringly as she pats his ashen cheek. Turning once more towards him she picks something up off the floor and brings it harshly down on his head, I gasp as the blood instantly wells from the old pinprick scars.
Scrambling to my feet I try to run to him, try to get that ghastly crown from his head. "My king has come." She smiles widely her teeth yellowed and pointed, sweeping her arms wide shadows knock me to my feet and seem to hold me down. I struggle and twist trying to get out of their grasp "Daahlia you have lost," she elongates my name "You couldn't save him in time, instead you went to find your dead mother rather than save your lover." I scream in fury more than pain her cackling echoing around the clearing.
Eventually I stop struggling making myself turn away from the sight of Rafe, making sure I keep my attention on the hag. The shadows slowly drift away and I get to my feet gasping as the cold air and my wet, snow covered clothes soak through to my skin "Time to end this." She smiles widely at my new found strength as I walk towards her. My determination grows and suddenly I'm in front of her "You're mine." She says tauntingly whilst clasping her hands together and the shadows begin to swarm around us...
Brightness. Nevan shakes my shoulder as I slowly drift, I'd not left her room since the night I'd returned to see her, except for the torturous meetings that I was forced to attend. As I rouse I notice his gaze linger on her lifeless form concern etching his youthful face though these past days he appears to have aged with worry over his lost daughter. "She's nearly fully healed, she'll be with us soon..." His voice carries off with the hope he tries to muster in his usual flamboyant flare but his smile doesn't quite make it, I slump into the high backed chair once more, now used to the real Nevan.
Images flicker all around me and I stare in awe as moments in my life flash by. Surreal. I see myself as a baby in my mother’s arms, I feel tears prick at the corner of my eyes, she was beautiful her hair just a bit darker than mine, her eyes a hazel green. My brow furrows in confusion but is quickly melted as more images unfold, me with my mother... My father, I cringe slightly as I watch Nevan's devoted and adoring gaze as he follows my mother and me around the small cottage quaint room yet somehow sad tears form in my eyes as I watch the life I would have had if... what did happen? I realise I don't even know.
The images grow darker showing me crying in my crib around two years old, Nevan... My father... Whispering a sorrowful but quick and hasty goodbye to my mother, her eyes so sullen and broken as she kisses him tenderly in farewell. He kisses me on my forehead and my crying stops, two year old me smiles up at him and he smiles sadly back, he makes little fireworks shoot from his fingers and she- I clap in delight. Then he walks out of the door.
We're running, I'm four maybe five and somebody is chasing us, my hair falls half way down my back in tight spirals and I wear a little pink dress, my mother clings tightly too me scooping me up as I trip and fall on the dirt road. She hugs me tight and I inhale her sweet smell of strawberries and summer, my eyes are closed tight so I don't see our hunters.
The image flickers again and we're at the Arcana house, my dress is muddied and ruined showing that some time has passed, my hair no longer in spirals but more natural waves and lot more dishevelled, I see my mother crying as I play with an old doll but she's talking to an old yet youthful woman, Grams, my younger self knows not to interrupt a grown up conversation.
My four year old self is asleep in the old armchair of the day room, a book falls from my fingers open on the floor, my mother brushes hair from my eyes and kisses my forehead "I'll always love you. Be good, please don't hate me or your father." She whispers in my ear and I mumble in my sleep, wiping her tears away she steps back exchanging more words with Grams "She won't remember any of this, not until the time is right. To her you will have died when she was a baby, her father nobody knows of except a select few, for now anyway." My mother lets out a quiet sob before kissing and smoothing my hair once more, Grams dismisses her with a look though it is full of sorrow and loss "Be safe Pythia."
Flicker of images and I'm crying for my mummy, Grams gives me a medicine to help me sleep though it's other properties include memory wiping. The images get faster and I see things that I remember, playing with other Arcana family members and pranking whoever I could, hours and hours of reading in the day room ignoring studies on being an Oracle and the history of Wintrem. Eventually they merge spinning faster and faster making me dizzy I cry out as the images hurt my eyes and sounds vibrate around the room, they start to slow when I see Rafe for the first time, me looking up into the shadows and glinting golden eyes peering back at me, him carrying me, we're talking around the campfire, we're walking, we're dancing, we're kissing.
The images stop at this precise moment and my cheeks redden as I see our bodies clashing in a fit of passion the kiss deepening until he pulls away, I flinch at the memory of the hurt and I watch his expression as he leaves, his eyes tortured rather than hateful. Suddenly a weight seems to lift from my shoulders and the images fall away until I'm standing in a blank white room, emptiness surrounds me and my footsteps seem to echo around as I search for a way out.
I inhale a breath, my body arches from the bed and I gasp as the air courses into my lungs, my eyes still shut I clench my fists scared to open them in case it was another very vivid dream. The images still flicker through my mind water, desert, the shadows and Rafe, my mother... Nevan reliving those moments with Rafe made my heart beat harder in my chest and I feel the blush rise to my cheeks. I try to calm down my fast breaths when suddenly I feel a soft yet rough hand squeeze mine, I squeeze back with my eyes still closed a silent hope that this is actually real, feeling my skin react to his the tingling and butterflies quickly return "I know you're awake." I hear the soft smile on his lips as I slowly open my eyes.
I exhale slowly and let my gaze wonder around the dimly lit room, the fire flickers in the hearth and the room glows the blue of the ice palace walls which had begun to feel homely. Finally I set my eyes on Rafe, his eyes are soft molten gold and he has a small amount of stubble along his jaw which indicates the length of time that he hadn't left my side, a feeling of gratitude overcomes me and a tiny blush raises to my pale cheeks. He still smiles at me and his eyes search mine, his hand clutches to mine and he lifts his other and rests it on the side of my steadily heating face, I look down embarrassed and tentative to speak.
He beats me to it "I'm sorry for what happened at the ball, I had to get away I didn't want to hurt you." His voice pleads for forgiveness and I nod my head slowly, knowing that I wasn't angry at him I strangely understood the situation he was in. I attempt to speak but noise fails to escape my lips instead I croak and splutter on my dry throat, suddenly I'm left alone as Rafe rushes to get water from the dresser over by the armoire I can't help but feel the slight loss as if someone had taken away a limb, I needed him with me to feel complete, how did this happen?
I sigh inwardly and attempt to get out of the bed suddenly feeling claustrophobic and definitely not in need of sleep, standing up my legs wobble and I end up tippling backwards onto the bed much to the amusement of Rafe who chuckles and walks over to help me stand up. "You know I could get used to the silence." I raise my brows at him and he laughs though I notice a shift in his eyes as they harden slightly he smiles as best he can and hands me the water.
I drink greedily gulping down mouthfuls, wetting my dry throat I cough and splutter occasionally but carry on drinking until there is no more water and I look at him gratefully "Thanks." I manage to whisper without coughing though I still sound croaky. He nods his head and moves my hair out of my eyes "Please don't leave me like that again." He says almost desperately and steps closer so that we are a hairs breadth apart, I inhale his musky scent and wait in anticipation my skin running with electricity as he brings his head down to meet mine. Our lips touch softly and I try to step even closer attempting to tangle my arms around his when suddenly my vision goes black and I'm sat back on the bed, he looks at me concerned but that crooked smile tugs at his lips.
"Well someone's been busy." The voice comes from the doorway and I immediately blush as Faline saunters into the room I glance quickly at Rafe and notice his cheeks tinted with slightly more colour. Faline throws me a quick toothy smile and pushes her silver hair behind her shoulder "I'm glad your okay." She says and bounces over too me as Rafe moves away as if to blend into the background a tension seems to rise in the room and I throw a confused glance between the two, she waves away my glance by sitting down next to me.
"You've missed nothing of importance even though you have a lot to catch up on." She gives me her trade mark mischievous grin and I find myself mustering a small smile back. I notice Rafe edge his way to the door "I'll let you get sorted out then." He clears his throat and sends an apologetic grin my way as he leaves. I suddenly realise the need to go to the toilet and the hunger that made my stomach rumble like a whale, Faye laughs and stands up grabbing clothes from the oaken armoire "Come on let's get you a bath and some food." I go to follow her nervously unsure as to what rumours await me outside the door, she noticed my apprehension "Don't worry it's around two in the morning and barely anyone's up." She reassures me and I visibly relax.
Retracing my steps around the palace felt unusual at first, especially as I realised just how scantily I was dressed "Well I thought you needed to look good if you were just going to be lying there." Faye quips over her shoulder as I attempt to pull down the hem of the nightie my cheeks redden as I realise I was wearing this in front of Rafe and I groan inwardly, why can't we just attempt to have a normal relationship?
I falter slightly in my step as I process my thoughts, relationship? We'd kissed and I was calling it a relationship, damn I need to sort out my priorities... I cover the strides distance between me and Faye as we approach the baths plucking up the courage to ask about what was between her and Rafe. "So what's the thing with you and Rafe?" I ask surprising myself with my bluntness and even the tint of green eyed jealousy lining my vision. "Well we knew each other long ago and were pretty close," she says teasingly smiling like a Cheshire Cat as she notices how much her words were beginning to get to me "We had a bad break up-" suddenly I see red and struggle to control the jealousy coursing through my veins as I look at the flawless Faline... and then she laughs. I look at her confused my vision clearing and my breathing hard on my chest slowly begins to calm as she touches- no, as she attempts to touch my shoulder.
Everything comes into focus as I notice a bubble around me crackling with energy, I panic and cry out and as fast as it appeared it was gone with a snap that I felt in my gut. I sag slightly and Faye pulls me against her "You need to control your emotions Dee. As I was saying we had a bad break up when I was little, he was in that arranged marriage and I looked up to him, my big brother, my knight in shining armour." Her voice trails off and her eyes glaze as she remembers a happier time in her childhood, I register her words and gasp "You? Him? Brother and sister? But how?" The question comes tumbling and she doesn't stop me and doesn't answer my questions either. I realise that we're at the baths and I strip down, still self conscious in front of Faye's flawless body but less modest than I was before as I felt the desperate need for a wash, I walk to a pool and sink in with a deep sigh. Faye soon follows and sits across from me, she lets me wash and when finally I'm just soaking in the warm water her voice oddly quiet and subdued drifts over the steaming water to me "My father was the king of an old settlement that's long gone now, and when Rafe's mother lost her daughter in childbirth she became detached from the king and so the king had an affair with a died out species now of the old fae. Any way I turn up on the door step of this castle a little baby halfling," she smiles a sad twisted smile before she continues "I wasn't accepted by many except Rafe, he was my hero but by the time I was bonding with him and when I most needed him he was sent away and never came back."
Her soft voice drifts off and we sit in silence for a while lost in our thoughts "I'm sorry Faye... But at least you have your family back." She smiles at me tentatively and nods briefly before stepping out of the water, I quickly follow and we dry and dress before heading to the kitchens to grab a midnight snack. By the time I'd finished eating, I'd managed to eat the left over bread rolls and soup from people’s dinners and the chef had begun cooking breakfast for the workers in the palace. Me and Faye quickly took our leave, our conversations dwindling on silly subjects both of us avoiding the real, serious things that were whirring around our minds.