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Chapter 16: The ritual III [ FINAL]

The wind, once a fierce howling monster, now caressed my skin with gentle fingers and danced playfully through my hair. The bonfire, which had raged with fury just moments ago, now sputtered and crackled as it died down casting an eerie stillness upon the scene.

In the silvery moonlight, the queen’s soldiers emerged from the shadows of the surrounding trees, dragging a wounded Caelia into the heart of the clearing. Their grotesque forms were illuminated by the dying embers of the fire, casting hideous shadows across their faces.

A strangled cry burst from my throat as I watched in terror.

 “Caelia!” I screamed.

The soldiers tossed her aside like a discarded toy, her body limp and broken. My legs moved on instinct alone as I rushed to her side,collapsing on my knees next to her. My trembling hands hovering over her bruised and bloodied form in a futile attempt to alleviate her suffering.

“Please…help me,” Caelia’s soft plea was barely a whisper, but it pierced my heart like a knife.

Pure horror consumed me as I gazed upon the cruel handiwork of these ruthless soldiers. 

Fury coursed through my veins, tears welling up in my eyes as I confronted them. “You monsters!” I screamed, unable to suppress my rage any longer. “What have you done to her?” My voice shook with emotion, but I refused to back down.

One of the soldiers let out a sadistic chuckle. “Just following orders,” he sneered.

The sight was almost too much to bear. Caelia lay before me, her once radiant face now twisted in agony. My heart shattered as I watched tears stream down her pale cheeks, the soft moans of pain escaping from her trembling lips.

“I won’t let you die,” I choked out through my own tears, but fear clawed at my chest. How could anyone survive such torture?

My trembling hands pressed against Caelia’s broken body. Her injuries were severe—torn clothing, bruised and bloodied skin. I noticed Caelia’s lips, once full and vibrant, were now cut and swollen. Delicate fingers with broken bones and torn nails.

The sight of my dear friend in such a state filled me with a deep, burning anger.

Caelia’s dark hair, usually long and flowing, now lay in uneven patches on her head, crudely shorn off by her captors. It added to the brutality of the scene, and I could feel my stomach churning at the thought of what she must have gone through.

Trembling, I lifted my gaze from Caelia to the queen. 

Rohan took cautious steps towards me, his eyes filled with concern. But the queen shot a glacial glare that could curdle the blood in a dragon’s veins. He came to an abrupt halt, as if an invisible barrier had sprung up between us. Yet, his eyes remained fixed on me.

“Aerin, you must heal her. This is the final test,” the queen demanded, a twisted pleasure dancing in her calculating eyes.

I inhaled a shaky breath, steeling myself as I reached for Caelia’s bruised body.  ‘You got this, Aerin,’   my inner voice urged. I felt a warm glow in my palms, a sign of my magic. “I have done it before… I can do it again.”

With every fiber of my being, I commanded the healing energy to flow from me and into Caelia’s battered form. A warm, golden light spread from my palms, soothing her ragged breaths and easing the agony marked on her features.

A triumphant grin spread across my lips. “It’s working!” I breathed eagerly, meeting Rohan’s intense gaze. His eyes were fixed on me, filled with anxious hope.

“You can do this, Aerin,” he whispered back, his voice filled with confidence and belief.  

Closing my eyes, I focused all of my energy on channeling the magic within me. I could feel it pulsing through my veins, a warm, comforting light that spread from my fingertips to my friend’s body. The air around us seemed to shimmer with energy, responding to the power I wielded.

As the ethereal tendrils of magic caressed her skin, I opened my eyes and saw the wounds begin to close. The cuts drew together, the edges fusing into a faint, pale line, while the bruises slowly faded away, leaving behind smooth, unblemished skin.

I smiled. In that moment, I felt a sense of fulfillment unlike anything I had ever experienced before.

Caelia’s eyes opened slowly, a small but grateful smile gracing her lips. “You…you saved me.” she whispered in awe, looking at me with newfound respect and admiration.

I pushed myself to my feet, legs wobbling like a newborn fawn. The overwhelming power of channeling such potent energy left me dizzy and weak, my head spinning as if I were caught in a storm. The world around me unfolded in a disorienting whirlwind. My legs trembled beneath me. As I began to fall, a strong hand gripped my arm, steadying me. “Easy,” a familiar voice murmured.

I gasped, eyes flying open to meet Rohan’s gaze. He looked worried. His touch, firm and steady, held me upright.

In that moment, I finally became aware of his presence, enveloped in his intoxicating scent – a blend of musk and cedar that filled my senses. His warm breath caressed my skin as he murmured, “You did it, Aerin,” his voice laced with admiration.

I turned my head to see Caelia sitting up, her eyes shining with gratitude and relief. She smiled at me, and I felt a surge of joy and pride.

I didn’t know what to say, how to explain what I had done, what I had felt. But then Rohan’s piercing stare caught me off guard. His intense gaze held a mixture of tenderness and adoration that made my cheeks flush with heat.

His voice, deep and gravelly, caressed my ears as he delicately moved a stray lock of hair away from my face, causing a surge of tingling sensations to ripple down my back.  “Are you alright?” His concern was evident, but I couldn’t bring myself to admit the truth. I was far from fine, my mind reeling with exhaustion and confusion.

My voice cracked as I forced a smile, “I’m fine.” The lie tasted like ashes in my mouth, but I couldn’t let him see the exhaustion coursing through my body. All I could think about was how desperately I wanted his lips on mine.

His hesitation was palpable. His gaze briefly meeting my parted lips, then back to my eyes. He gave a quick glance around, and I wondered, did he feel the same pull I did? Or was it all just an act?

But our stolen moment was short-lived, shattered by a cold laugh. The queen stood before us, watching with a mocking smirk on her face as she clapped her hands slowly in disdain.

“What a touching scene,” she spat, her voice dripping with disgust. “I hope you enjoyed your little moment, because it’s about to end. Permanently.”

Rohan jerked away from me, as if he had been burned. His eyes reflected the pain and regret of a thousand shattered dreams. He uttered two words that stabbed at my heart: “I’m sorry.”

A throbbing ache settled in my chest, torn between the desire for his embrace and the crushing reality – it was impossible. I craved his touch, his lips against mine, but logic screamed recklessness.

We had no time for romance, for love, for kisses.

But in that desperate moment, a seed of doubt took root. Did the thought even cross his mind? Or did he simply see me as…unworthy? The thought struck me like a slap. I couldn’t help but scoff at myself, a bitter chuckle breaking through. The very thought that someone as magnificent and powerful as Rohan would choose to kiss me was laughable. Of course, he wouldn’t. How foolish of me to even entertain the fantasy. That ‘kiss’ in the cell meant nothing. It was a mere act of domination and humiliation. But he confuses me because sometimes he seems to care. Maybe he was just playing with my feelings. I was far from being worthy of his affection.

Despite the madness of the moment, a sliver of truth remained: this wasn’t the time for such things.

With a triumphant smile, the queen declared. “The StarBorn has proven her worth. The ritual is complete.”

The queen’s soldiers grabbed Caelia roughly with their iron-clad hands, gripping her fiercely as they dragged her into a swirling red cloud. I could only watch in horror as my friend was seized and dragged into a swirling vortex of crimson mist.

My heart thudded with panic and rage, every fiber of my being screaming to unleash my magic and protect her. 

But then Rohan’s voice, with a raw, primal fear, erupted inside my head. “No!” he cried out, his emotions piercing through me like a knife. Rohan? Disoriented and utterly confused, I forced myself to stand still, watching helplessly as the cloud dissipated and my friend vanished from sight.

Absinthya’s piercing stare felt like a sharp blade against my skin, daring me to make one wrong move. “Don’t even think about using your magic, girl,” she growled, her voice low and menacing. “Or else your dear friend will pay the price.”

My jaw tightened as I struggled to keep my emotions in check. Absinthya was not one to make idle threats – her intentions were clear and deadly.

I couldn’t even get a word out before the witch crept closer to me. Her lips twisted into a sinister smirk. Her fingers were thin and bony, like the branches of an old tree, as she reached for my arms. Their pointed nails digging painfully into my flesh. I flinched and tried to pull away, but she held me in an iron grip. “You’re coming with me, little starborn,” she hissed with delight.”The queen has big plans for you.”

My voice quivered with a mixture of fear and defiance as I asked Absinthya, “What do you want from me?”

Absinthya grabbed my chin. “Oh, my dear,” she purred, “power always comes at a price.” She whispered, “I will drink every drop of your power until you are but a faint echo, a lingering whisper, lost in the shadows.”

I shuddered at her words, fear and anger coursing through me like wildfire. I had only heard bits and pieces of the prophecy from Sylvenna, but now I was faced with the full weight of it. Desperately, I sought comfort in Rohan’s intense stare,but his gaze was downcast, his silence pulsing with hidden fury. His tightly clenched fists and tense brow spoke volumes of the invisible shackles that held him back from unleashing his true emotions.

At that moment, it became clear that not all battles were fought on the battlefield; some raged within our own hearts and minds.

The queen released her grip on my chin and gave a subtle nod to the witch. The corners of the witch’s lips curled up in a sinister smile. 

A single, skeletal finger, like a claw reaching from a forgotten grave, curled into a wicked command. A hiss, like a serpent’s dying breath, and emerald tendrils of magic erupted from the floor. They writhed and pulsed, hungry vines coiling sinuously around me, suffocating and cold. The world dissolved into a nauseating vortex of green, the sickening smell filling my lungs and blurring my vision. Then, silence. As if the world itself had been swallowed by the abyss, darkness claimed me, absolute and suffocating.


3 Comments on “Chapter 16: The ritual III [ FINAL]”

  1. Oh, that was intense! So Aerin showed her healing powers 🙂
    Her suspects that Rohan isn’t really attracted to her, was heartbreaking.
    Love it! Abb as always awful haha.

    1. Thank you! 🙂
      I hope the part where Rohan helps her made sense. In the first version I exaggerated a little and edited it so it wasn’t too clear for Aerin. She can’t know what he feels. And he needs to continue to not want to be with her, despite what he feels.

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