22. The Ring (part 3)

          His voice was still echoing in her mind, calling out her name, when the princess of Trellisania once again found herself trapped in the void of nothingness. Her heart cudgeled against her chest, threatening to beat its way out from the fear of returning to this oblivion, and beads of gem-like sweat seeped out of her pores. Only horrors awaited her here; she was certain. Her past experiences told her so.

          Milliseconds later, just as her prognostication had predicted, the nightmarish visions bombarded her as hard and as fast as Zephyr’s endless questions. Unearthly colors strobed across her vision from unknown sources like an erratic light show, and the cacophony of a steady beating drum filled her ears. Bum, bum, bum, bum. Bum, bum, bum, bum. Between the sporadic flashes, Hataru caught glimpses of strange images ─ an ancient book with dusty pages; a middle-aged man, reaching out to shake her hand in welcome; a giant black spider, creeping along its web; and a fetching blonde-haired woman with a sympathetic smile. The drum’s tempo accelerated, and more pictures flared. The young woman saw before her two ferocious animals, a grizzly bear and a lone wolf, aggressively circling one another ─ both growling deeply, but neither of them striking; an orange tabby cat hissed behind them. Next, she spied upon the semblance of a smiling crocodile hungrily eyeing an elegant swan confined within a cage beside a quivering, fright-stricken hare. The illusions sped up in pace with the drum, overloading her senses, and amongst the thousands of manifestations, she recognized a youthful Levi Spry, holding a tiny pouch and repeating the words, ‘Don’t be afraid,’ along with the mysterious man, with his sharp features and auburn hair tied back, waving and smiling in greeting. The drum continued to rush, beating harder, louder, faster with every strike as everything around the girl erupted into flames. The fire twisted and swirled, interlacing itself into a single bird of twice her stature, with a sharp, snapping beak, that burst from the inferno and engulfed her.

The End

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