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Dust and Light VII

I grabbed her hand, yanking her towards Sylvenna with desperate urgency. “We need to get out of here,” I urged, my voice strained with panic.

But Caelia froze,causing me to stumble. Her horrified gaze landed on the dried blood staining my hands and splattered across my dress. Sylvenna’s impatience was evident as she frantically motioned for us to hurry.

“It’s not my blood,” I blurted out, trying to ease Caelia’s worries before she could voice them. “It’s from my aunt’s crazed bitch. But don’t worry, I took care of her. We need to move now, the entire castle is about to come crashing down on us.”

Caelia’s face darkened at the mention of the queen’s death. She rudely yanked her hand away from mine, a sudden change that caught me off guard. But there was no time to dwell on it; we needed to leave. “We have to go,” I insisted.

However, Caelia stood fixed in place, her gaze piercing into my very soul. Confusion and fear flooded through me as I pleaded with her to move. “Come on, Caelia, we have to leave!”

Sylvenna called to me, urging me to hurry, “Princess, hurry!”

But then Caelia spoke, her tone chillingly calm. “I’m not going anywhere… and neither are you.”

Before I could react, a sharp pain pierced my abdomen. My eyes widened in disbelief as I looked up at Caelia, a dagger glistening in her hand. Sylvenna’s face contorted with horror and her mouth opened in a silent scream as she witnessed the scene before her.

I stumbled backwards, clutching at my stomach as I gazed at Caelia in shock. My vision spun as I fought to stay on my feet. My hand pressed against the wound, slick with warm blood that spilled out between my fingers.

The illusion of Caelia vanished, revealing Niamh. “This is for my mother,” she spat.

My body gave out, collapsing to the ground with a sickening thud. Blood welled from my wounds, staining the ground crimson as I gasped for air, each breath more labored than the last. Sylvenna’s panicked footsteps filled my ears as she rushed to my side. Her features were contorted with worry and fear for my life as she knelt beside me, her hands shaking as she tried to stop the bleeding.

Rohan. My vision swam, but I saw him – a streak of primal fury, a shadow blur launched at Niamh.  A roar ripped from his throat, a sound that shook the very earth. He was pure rage and power. His body  ablaze with the fury of a thousand storms. Shadowy tendrils, hungry and alive, erupted from his form, morphing into blades that sang a deadly music as they sliced through the air.

But Niamh, fueled by her mother’s inherited magic, proved to be a formidable adversary. Her eyes glowed with a furious red intensity, consumed by the rage and power of a hundred vengeful spirits. She was stronger now, I knew, her grief a blackened wellspring of raw power after her mother’s death.

The ground trembled beneath me as they clashed in a violent storm of sound and motion. Metal clashed against dark magic, their battle punctuated by guttural roars and thunderous crashes. I struggled to keep up with their movements, mere blurs in my fading vision.

Niamh was relentless, her anger only feeding the frenzy of her attacks. A savage blow sent Rohan stumbling backwards. A choked gasp escaped my lips, the sound lost in the noise of the fight.

Undeterred, Rohan surged forward, channeling every ounce of his power. His voice, a thunderous roar that vibrated through my very bones. “This ends now, Niamh!”

Through the swirling mists of pain, I witnessed Rohan close the distance. His grip wasn’t physically there, but on her very mind.  A snarl ripped from his throat. It seemed to arise from somewhere deeper, completely surpassing his physical form . His eyes, now pitch black, reflected not just anger, but a cold, calculating purpose. He was no longer fighting Niamh; he was burrowing into Niamh’s very soul with a fiery intensity that made my blood run cold.

With each passing moment, the light of defiance in her eyes dimmed. She thrashed against his hold, a marionette yanked by invisible strings. Niamh screamed in agony, the sound piercing through the air like a wounded animal’s cry. Her body convulsed, hands clawing at nothing as if trying to escape the torment. She screamed again , her eyes rolling back in her head until only the whites showed.

I could see the agony carved on her face, her features contorted in a grotesque mask of pain and despair. But Rohan showed no mercy, his grip only tightening as Niamh’s screams grew weaker and her struggles were reduced to nothing more than a whimpering, broken shell of her former self. Her mind, once a fortress of hate, became a desolate wasteland.  A tremor ran through Rohan as he released her. Niamh collapsed, blood streaming from her nose and ears. With a final, shuddering gasp, her eyes glazed over, and the last embers of her spirit flickered out.

“You’re done,” he rasped.

The room fell into a heavy silence as Niamh lay defeated and broken. And through the haze of my blurred vision, I saw Rohan slowly turn towards me. His face, streaked with sweat and dirt, held a glimmer of concern that warmed a small part of my heart. Despite everything, he had fought for me, risking it all to protect me.

But concern swiftly morphed into raw panic. Rohan launched himself across the room. Dust billowed in his wake as he covered the distance in a single, desperate lunge. He skidded to a halt and crouched beside my battered form, his usual steely gaze shattering into a torrent of fear and desperation.

His warm hand, trembling slightly, gently enveloped mine as he assessed the severity of my injuries. I could feel the life slipping away from me, each breath becoming shallower, each heartbeat a fading echo.

“Stay strong, Aerin,” I heard his voice in my mind, his words a desperate plea. “You can’t die!”

The world blurred around me, the once vibrant colors fading into a haze of swirling grays. I mustered up the last of my reserves, forcing the words to escape my lips, “I…thank you,” I managed to choke out. Yet, even as I spoke, I could feel the inevitable drawing near, an icy tendril creeping up my spine, stealing the warmth from my veins.

Rohan’s hand brushed against my clammy cheek with a tenderness I had never felt before. His touch was both gentle and urgent, as if trying to hold onto something slipping away. “Don’t give up.”  he implored, his voice trembling with emotion. “You’re going to be okay. I promise.”

The desperation in his words echoed in my heart, but I couldn’t find the strength to believe him. The darkness was closing in, the pain overwhelming. And as much as I wanted to hold on, I knew it was futile. Tears welled up in my eyes as I looked into his intense gaze, silently expressing my love and gratitude for everything he had done.

Sylvenna’s words cut through the haze clouding my mind, her tone filled with concern. “She is dying before our eyes,” she declared. “I don’t think she’ll make it.”

I watched as Rohan extended his hand over my wound, a radiant golden light emanating from his palm, hovering just above the injury. But before hope could fully bloom, Sylvenna’s voice shattered it. “It’s futile,” she interjected, her tone heavy with resignation. “The blade Niamh used was poisoned. The toxin prevents her from healing.” Sylvenna explained. “I tried.”

I slammed my eyes shut, willing myself to block out the relentless shards of pain that tore through my body like a merciless storm. My muscles tensed as I fought against the overwhelming agony, desperately seeking refuge from its grasp.

“Aerin, please,” Rohan’s voice broke through the haze of pain. “Darling, open your eyes. Look at me.”

With great effort, I forced my heavy eyelids open, focusing on his face through the blur of tears.

Dark locks of hair fell in disarray across his sweat and dirt-coated skin. It was evident that the battle was over – bodies lay strewn around us, severed limbs and discarded weapons. Some of the former prisoners looked at me with pity, while others scrambled to escape from the crumbling castle.

“I-I’m so tired,” I murmured weakly, feeling the chill of death creeping into my bones.

“You have to hold on,” Rohan’s urgent plea echoed in my ears. “Don’t you dare give up on me,” His hand gripped mine so tightly it felt like he might crush my bones.

The High Lord turned to Sylvenna, silently begging her to do something. “I can’t lose her,” he whispered hoarsely. “There has to be something else we can do.”

With a heavy sigh, the healer reached for a tiny vial from her worn leather belt, offering it to me. “Drink this,” she said gently, helping me lift my head. I swallowed the cool liquid, but even as it slid down my throat, I knew it wouldn’t be enough to heal me.

“I’m sorry, High Lord,” Sylvenna murmured sorrowfully. “I’ve done all I can. She’s beyond my help now.”

Rohan’s jaw clenched so hard his teeth seemed on the verge of shattering. His eyes reflected an internal war, a fierce struggle between frustration and fear that could erupt at any second. He turned back to me, his gaze filled with a fierce determination that burned brighter than any fever. “You’re not giving up on me, Aerin,” he growled fiercely. “I won’t let you. You hear me?”

Through the haze of pain and exhaustion, I thought I saw a glimmer of something in his gray eyes, a hint of unshed tears threatening to spill over. But my vision was too blurred and hazy to be certain.

Is he really crying? Or is it just my imagination?

“Wait…” Sylvenna frantically rummaged through her old leather bag, the familiar scent of herbs filling the air, until she pulled out another small vial containing a clear liquid. It glimmered in the faint light, almost as if it held some sort of magic within its glass walls.

The ground trembled beneath us, shaking the walls and sending jagged cracks spider webbing across the stone floor. Clouds of dust billowed around us, making it hard to see or breathe. My heart raced and my throat tightened as I imagined the weight of the ceiling above crushing me.

A deep fissure opened up just inches from where Niamh’s body lay,  and I could see the fear in Rohan and Sylvenna’s eyes as they realized the severity of the situation.

Sylvenna’s words tumbled out in a desperate rush. “This,”  she said, holding up the small vial with trembling hands, “is the ‘Nectar of Life.’ More valuable than gold, crafted from the waters of a sacred spring, fiercely guarded by ancient spirits older than legends themselves! To obtain it, one must face their trials. Trials that test body and soul. That’s why it’s so rare, so precious. I have guarded it for years, hidden from Absinthya. But now…” Her voice trailed off hoarsely and she looked at me with hope in her eyes. “Now, it might be the only way to save the princess.”

The tears blurred my vision, making it hard to see Rohan’s hand as it snatched the vial from Sylvenna’s shaking grasp. The glass glinted in the dim light, refracting the colors of the room like a tiny prism. It was evident in his puzzled expression that he was unfamiliar with the potion.

Should that make me more nervous?

The healer looked at me. “Princess, you will not survive your injury. The blade was imbued with a powerful poison, and it took its toll.” Sylvenna said sadly. “But,” She continued, her voice taking on a glimmer of hope, “the Nectar can offer you a second chance, a new beginning. It will bring you back to life… as a pure fey,” she explained.

My heart skipped a beat at Sylvenna’s words. As a pure fey? My mind whirled with questions and doubts.

Would I still be me, or someone completely new?

“Pure fey?” Rohan repeated, his shock evident.

Sylvenna’s gaze lingered on me, her expression grave. “But I must warn you, it won’t be painless.”

“No…” My voice came out as a tremulous whisper, barely audible over the sound of my own ragged breathing. A shiver coursed through my entire being, just the thought of enduring more agony made me want to crumble. Every small movement felt like a thousand knives being plunged into my flesh, causing me to gasp and choke for air. A sickly warmth began to spread beneath me, a thick and sticky sensation that could only mean one thing – blood.

Rohan’s face paled as he noticed the growing stain. “Aerin, please, you must stay still,” he pleaded, his voice breaking with fear. My eyes widened in terror as another stab of pain jolted through me. Fear clung to me, thick as the blood that now pooled beneath my body.

I can’t do this. I can’t endure any more pain. Not again. The thought raced through my mind as I struggled to hold back tears.

Rohan’s fingers interlocked with mine, his piercing gaze burning through me. “You’re a fighter, always have been,” he growled fiercely, his intense steel-blue eyes searching mine for any sign of the fighter he knew.

But what if I’m not?  The doubt gnawed at me, even as I clung to his words.

I clenched my jaw, attempting to give a small nod to show that I understood. However, the movement sent sharp bolts of agony through my body, causing me to wince and grit my teeth in pain. Through the haze of torment, I caught Sylvenna watching me, her brow furrowed with concern.

I saw Rohan turn toward Sylvenna, “Are you certain this will work?” he asked, his voice a mixture of hope and fear.

Could this potion truly save me? 

Sylvenna hesitated before answering. “In all my long years, centuries of life, I’ve never had to use or witness the effects of this potion myself. I’ve only heard of one case, and even then, I cannot say if it was true or just a rumor.”

Rohan’s gaze shifted from Sylvenna to me, his eyes filled with a mixture of concern and determination. “I know this is a difficult choice, princess,” he began, his voice gentle yet firm, “but it may be our only chance to save you. If we do nothing…” He trailed off, letting the unspoken words hang in the air.

Pain carved lines across Rohan’s face. Was that a flicker of fear dancing in his eyes? The fear of losing me? Yet, amidst the worry… there was also a spark of hope.

“The decision is yours,” he continued, his voice gaining strength. “But please, Aerin, don’t give up on yourself.”

Despite the excruciating pain that coursed through my body, I gathered what little strength I had left and managed a weak nod.

“I accept,” I whispered.

Relief flooded Rohan’s features, softening the harsh angles etched by worry. His hand, warm and trembling slightly, reached out and brushed his thumb across my knuckles in a gesture of tender reassurance. “Are you sure, Aerin?” he murmured, his voice husky with emotion.

I met his gaze. My voice, though weak, held a newfound determination. “I’m sure,” I replied. “I want to live, Rohan.”

I want to stay with you.

The ground trembled violently, sending more rocks tumbling from the ceiling. Rohan reacted swiftly, throwing himself over me to protect me from the falling debris. Sylvenna scrambled for cover under a nearby chair, her eyes wide with fear. The deafening sound of destruction filled our ears as dust engulfed us, blinding our senses.

The grand hall shook violently, its walls on the verge of collapse amid the chaos. Suddenly, a huge hole tore open, swallowing the Queen’s lifeless body. Terrified ex-prisoners ran in panic, their faces filled with dread as they fled to safety.

Sylvenna’s eyes were filled with tears as she whispered “Good luck” and turned to join the group of escaping prisoners, blending into the chaotic crowd. She gave one last glance back at me, her expression grateful, before disappearing into the confusion and panic.

As everything started to fade, Rohan scooped me gently into his muscular arms, holding me close to his broad chest. The warmth radiating from his powerful form provided a brief sense of comfort despite my disoriented state.

His voice scraped against my ear, hoarse with desperation. “Aerin, stay with me.”

Then, we were swallowed up by darkness, disappearing into the unknown. My mind slipped into oblivion as everything around me dissolved into a dizzying void.

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