Categories story

Dust and Light VI

The battle raged around me, swords clashing, magic crackling through the air. I stayed low behind a table, the wood rough against my fingertips as I gripped it tightly. Heart pounding.

Rohan moved with the speed and grace of a deadly predator, his sword slicing through enemies with precision and his magic crackling around him in a dazzling display. I could barely keep up with the blur of his movements, the glint of steel flashing dangerously as he mercilessly took down each opponent.  He’s incredible,  I thought, admiration mingling with my worry.

Our allies fought bravely, their shouts mingling with the roars of the monsters. I wanted to join them, to help in any way I could, but I remembered my promise to stay hidden.

The battlefield was a chaotic mess. Screams, raw and desperate, filled the air, punctuated by the bone-jarring clang of metal on metal. A wave of terror paralyzed me as a dark figure detached itself from the shadows behind Rohan. Its movements were fluid and silent, a predator stalking its prey. It was the old witch, her face a mask of cruelty. Blood drained from my face as I realized the true danger Rohan faced.

Oh gods, no.

“Watch out!” I screamed, but my words were a futile whisper against the roar of battle.

With a flick of her wrist, the witch unleashed a roiling vortex of dark magic that erupted from her outstretched palm. Time seemed to stand still as the dark magic slashed through the air, striking Rohan squarely in the back before he could even react. A gasp ripped from my throat as he arched backward as if struck by an invisible fist. His cry cut short as he crashed to the ground. His sword clattered away, and his face contorted in a silent scream, eyes squeezed shut against the agony.

Please, no.

Terror clenched my heart, the air ripped from my lungs as I watched helplessly, fearing the worst.

But to my astonishment, he recovered with a speed that defied belief.  He conjured a blade of pure shadow, its inky tendrils swirling around his hand. The witch closed in for the kill, her dark magic pulsating around her like a ravenous beast.

Come on, Rohan.

I couldn’t tear my gaze away from the scene, my knuckles turning white as I gripped the edge of the wooden table, my heart pounding in my chest like a frantic drum.

With lightning-like speed and deadly accuracy, Rohan’s shadow blade sliced through the witch’s body, a dark aura surrounding it as it pierced her flesh.

Yes! Take her down!

A ball of green smoke erupted, engulfing the witch in its suffocating embrace. Her agonized screams echoed through the battlefield before she dissipated into nothingness.

Rohan stood, his shadow blade dissipating into the air. His chest heaved, his breath ragged, but his eyes held a grim determination. A wave of relief flooded over me as I realized that he was unharmed. Thank the gods, he’s safe!

As our eyes met, a flicker of something more than gratitude passed between us. It felt like our souls were reaching out and connecting on a deeper level.

 


 

Crouched behind the overturned table, my eyes were fixated on Absinthya’s bloodied figure lying only a few feet away. The sounds of swords clashing and screams of pain still echoed through the air.

“Princess!” The urgent hiss came from the shadows, and I spotted Sylvenna’s silhouette behind a column. Her hand beckoned me with a desperate flicker. “Come quickly.”

Crawling on all fours, I dragged myself towards her, my palms and knees scraping on the marble floor. Each movement sent sharp spikes of pain shooting through my body as tiny pebbles dug into my skin.

“We’re fleeing through an ancient route,” Sylvenna hissed, barely audible over the chaotic sounds of battle. “A secret passage in the old wing of the palace. You must come.”

I hesitated, my eyes flicking back to Rohan and allies fighting valiantly in the battle.

“Rohan said to take you there if our plan succeeded,” Sylvenna continued as if she had read my thoughts.  “We must go.”

A prickle of irritation crawled up my spine. Was I a package to be delivered?  My fingers clenched into fists. But despite my anger towards being treated this way, there was a part of me that couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Rohan behind, not knowing what would become of him. How could I hold onto my anger when my heart was torn between staying and going?

“Screw what Rohan wants,” I spat back, my voice filled with defiance. “I won’t abandon him and the others.”

Sylvenna’s expression hardened, her gaze piercing into mine. “The High Lord didn’t ask for your consent, princess. He demanded it. And if need be, I will use magic to drag you along.”

Who does he think he is?  My eyes narrowed, but my initial anger gave way to a gnawing worry as I watched him fighting. Finally, I sighed in resignation. “Alright, fine. But Caelia, is she safe?”

“Many have fled already.  With the queen’s death, the powerful magic that cloaked the palace and kept us trapped… it’s gone. Caelia is likely with them.”

Another tremor shook the castle, dust and pebbles raining down like a deadly hailstorm. My heart raced with terror at the thought of being buried alive.

Sylvenna’s frantic tugs on my arm snapped me out of it.  “We need to go now,” the healer urged.

“But what about…” I began to protest.

“The immense amount of magic released has made this place unstable. It could collapse at any moment,” Sylvenna warned. “We must leave now,” the healer insisted urgently.

My chest tightened as I imagined Rohan and the others, their bodies entombed within the crumbling walls of this cursed castle. I rooted in place, wanting nothing more than to stay. But the ground trembled ominously, and dust rained down from the ceiling. Sylvenna’s hand clamped onto my arm, her grip surprisingly strong. With one last worried glance back, we fled for our lives as the place threatened to collapse around us.

I followed Sylvenna, our bodies low to the ground, darting from shadow to shadow. Then I saw her—Caelia, entering the throne room with a look of pure terror, her eyes scanning the chaos.

“Caelia!” I gasped, my heart leaping with relief.  She looked scared and lost, her eyes scanning frantically for a way out.

“I thought she was safe with the others,”  the healer muttered, her brow furrowed.

As I moved towards her, ready to bring her to safety, Sylvenna gripped my arm. “No time,” she hissed. “We must leave now.”

But I couldn’t leave her behind. Not Caelia. Rohan would understand… wouldn’t he? 

“I won’t leave without her!” I declared firmly.

Sylvenna hesitated, then reluctantly let go of my arm “Hurry!”

“Caelia!” I called out to her urgently. “Come with us!”

“Aerin!” Her eyes widened in relief. “Thank the gods you’re here!”

Categories story

Dust and Light V

Amidst the pandemonium, a cruel and mocking laughter cut through the air. Its chilling echo made my blood run cold.  My eyes landed on Absinthya, sprawled on the cold floor, and I couldn’t help but gasp at the transformation that had taken place. Her once ethereal beauty was now marred by deep wrinkles and dark age spots, giving her a shockingly human appearance. It was as if time had caught up to her in an instant, making her seem old and weak…mortal.

“Still pining after that High Lord of yours, I see,”  she sneered, “But let’s face it, Aerin, he’ll never want you.” Her words were like poison, seeping into every crack and crevice of my being.

Ignore her. 

My jaw tensed and my fingernails dug into my palms, forming crescent-shaped marks. “I’ve told you before, Aunt, I have no interest in Rohan,” I replied, injecting defiance into every word. It was a lie, of course. But I couldn’t let her see how much her words affected me.

Absinthya’s laughter grew louder, more mocking. “Oh, please. We both know the truth, Aerin. You can’t hide your desire for him any longer.”

“Stop!” I snapped, unable to bear another moment of this torment.

Absinthya sneered, her ruby orbs blazing with contempt. “You’re nothing but a foolish little child, chasing after a fantasy that will never be yours,” she hissed.

But beneath her cruel facade, I could feel the desperation seeping through.

“Do you truly believe you could ever capture his heart? How laughable.” the Queen taunted. “You’re a mere pawn in his game, Aerin. Nothing more, nothing less.”

I stood firm, refusing to let her words break me. “You underestimate me, Aunt,” I shot back, lifting my chin a fraction higher. “I may not be of noble birth, but I possess a strength you can only dream of. And I will not let you or anyone else dictate my fate.

Absinthya’s laughter turned bitter, a cruel sound that froze the air around me. “You are pitiful,” she hissed, her eyes burning with spite. “Just like your mother. Weak, foolish, destined for nothing but misery.”

My blood boiled at her words, a fiery rage coursing through me. With clenched fists and gritted teeth, I hissed back at her, “How dare you speak of my mother like that. You are nothing but a jealous harpy, consumed by your own vicious envy.”

Absinthya’s cruel smile only widened, revealing her true nature as a manipulative and vindictive woman. “Oh, but I know more about your precious mother than you think, my dear niece,” she taunted, her words dripping with venom. “Your mother may have fooled others with her sweetness, but she is a master manipulator just like me.”

I recoiled at her words, a sickening feeling twisting in the pit of my stomach.

“No!” I yelled, my voice laced with anger. “You’re wrong. My mother is kind and loving…nothing like you.” I shook my head in disbelief, refusing to believe her malicious words.

But even as the words left my lips, I couldn’t shake the feeling of unease that tightened in my gut. What if Absinthya was right? What if my mother had been playing a game all along, manipulating everyone around her for her own gain? Rohan’s cruel words echoed in my mind, poisoning my thoughts.

I pushed the thought aside, burying it deep within me where it couldn’t hurt me. I refused to believe that my mother could be capable of such thing.

Absinthya’s scornful laughter echoed through the grand hall. “Oh, sweet Aerin,” she sneered. “You’re such a naive little dove. But don’t worry, my dear. You’ll learn soon enough.”

I met her gaze with defiance, refusing to back down. “You’re wrong,” I declared, my voice ringing with conviction. “I won’t let you poison my mind with your lies.”

A wave of fury washed over me, drowning out all rational thought. In that moment, there was only one thing driving me forward: vengeance.

My hand shook with rage as I reached down and grabbed a shard of glass, the remnants of the shattered crystal still sharp and cruel. Absinthya’s eyes widened in terror as she realized my intent, her attempts to escape futile as I stalked towards her.

With a cold expression, I knelt beside her, my movements steady and precise. Without a shred of hesitation, I plunged the jagged glass into her throat, relishing the feeling of warm blood gushing over my hand and hearing her gurgle in pain. “This is for me,” I declared through clenched teeth, my voice filled with fury.

Ignoring her desperate struggles, I drove the glass deeper, tearing into her chest with brutal force. Slick redness bloomed across the wound as I snarled, “And this is for my brother.”

My grip tightened on the shard, the wet warmth of blood slicking my hand as I drove it into her abdomen with a ferocious thrust. A guttural, wet gurgle escaped her lips, and bile rose in my throat as nausea clawed at me. Despite this, I plunged the shard deeper. “This…is for Rohan…” My voice barely recognizable, anger consuming me.  Each word punctuated by another savage strike that tore through Absinthya’s body.  Her screams drowned out by the sickening sounds of flesh being rent apart.

But even as I inflicted my retribution, Absinthya’s laughter continued, a sickening gurgle mingling with her mocking taunts. Blood spurted from her mouth, but she only laughed harder, her eyes wild with mad glee. The sight of her twisted grin only fueled the fire burning within me, driving me to strike harder, faster, with a relentless fury born of pure hatred.

“Die!” I screamed, each word a primal howl of agony and vengeance. But her laughter persisted, driving me further into a frenzy. “Die!” I screamed, my vision clouded by red rage.

“Die! Die! Die!” My screams echoed through the air, drowning out all other sound as I unleashed every ounce of rage and hatred within me. I felt alive with a savage pleasure unlike anything I had ever experienced before. This was not just retribution, this was liberation from the pain and torment she had inflicted upon me.

The lines between vengeance and savagery blurred. I was a storm, ready to consume everything in my path. My grip tightened, the shard a mere extension of my burning fury that threatened to spiral out of control. But then a pair of hands, firm and familiar, grabbed me, yanking me back from the precipice.

A startled cry escaped my lips and I paused in my struggle as the familiar scent of Rohan filled my nostrils – a blend of musk and cedar with a hint of leather and the smell of blood from the battle. His voice was gruff yet soothing, “Enough, Aerin,” he growled, his breath hot against my ear, sending shivers down my neck. “She’s gone. It’s over.”

A flicker of sanity sparked within me, enough to loosen my grip on the shard. As my knees buckled, he was there to catch me. The world felt like it was spinning out of control as I fell into the solid warmth of his embrace. My dress was now soaked in blood, my trembling hands dripping red.

Had I become the monster I had sworn to destroy? Tears welled in my eyes, blurring the scene before me. Hot against my cheek, they mingled with the bloodstains.

“It’s over,” he murmured softly. “It’s all over now. Everything’s going to be okay.”

Rohan’s hand, rough yet strangely comforting, cupped my tear-streaked cheek. His fingers, warm and calloused, traced the contours of my face, sending a delicious tremor ran through me. His stormy grey eyes, like a tempestuous sea, bore into mine, holding me steady amidst the chaos of my emotions.

“You were brave,” he whispered, his voice husky. “You did what had to be done.” His thumb brushed away a tear, the pad rough against my  skin, amplifying the tremor that danced down my spine. “You are safe now.”

The heat of his touch ignited a primal urge within me. I wanted nothing more than to melt into him, to find solace and comfort in the strength of his arms. But this was dangerous territory, a path I couldn’t afford to tread. He and I, it was a forbidden dance, a dance of fire and ice, of light and shadows. I had to remain strong, focused. Even if every fiber of my being screamed to surrender to him.

His regal attire had transformed into something dark and formidable. Under the dimming light, glistening ebony scales coated his arms,torso and legs, creating an impenetrable armor.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. When had he even conjured such a masterpiece?

As my gaze drifted past Rohan, I couldn’t help but be stunned by the scene that unfolded behind him. The ground was littered with the bodies of our enemies, their lifeless forms strewn across the floor like discarded puppets. Blood pooling around them in dark, viscous puddles that reflected the dim light of the hall. Some lay motionless, their eyes frozen in wide-eyed terror, while others writhed in the grip of their final agonizing moments. The air was thick with the metallic tang of blood and the scent of magic.

He did this… all by himself? How is this possible?

But before I could dwell on it further, a new wave of guards flooded into the ruined hall. Monstrous fairies, clad in dark, imposing armor adorned with menacing spikes and jagged edges, led the charge with a ferocity. Behind them, smaller and more sinister creatures flitted through the air like dark shadows. Their razor-sharp claws and fangs glistening in the light.

Fear clenched my heart as I realized that the battle was far from over.

“It’s not over yet,” I whispered, my voice barely audible above the cries of hatred that crashed like deadly waves.

Rohan followed my gaze with an eerie calmness, taking in the imminent danger with an almost unnerving ease. “Don’t worry,” he purred with a smug grin.”We have some friends.”

And true to his words, a group of humans and faeries emerged, prisoners turned allies, joining the fray with magic and swords. They charged into battle, a united front against our common enemy.

The ground trembled beneath us, the walls cracking and splintering as if they were mere toys. Debris fell from above, a dangerous shower that threatened our very lives, but then it stopped abruptly. I cast a worried glance at Rohan, his features tense and rigid with worry. A pang of fear tightened in my chest at the sight, recognizing the ominous signs of a potential collapse.

“I want to help,” I urged, my gaze fixed on the bloody battle before us. But Rohan held me back, his grip firm but gentle.

“You’re barely standing,” he growled, his eyes blazing with concern. “Using magic in your current state would be dangerous.”

I stiffened at his words, my stubbornness flaring. “I can’t just do nothing,” I argued, frustration evident in my voice.

His hand landed roughly on my bare shoulder, calloused fingers digging into my skin. A tremor ran through me at his touch, a jolt of awareness that left me tingling. As he looked at me seriously, I knew he was right. “Your first lesson: Magic is life,” he declared firmly. “I won’t allow you to risk yours for this.”

Reluctantly, I nodded, acknowledging the wisdom in his words.

“But promise me,” he implored, his tone softening. “Promise me you’ll stay out of the fight.”

My heart ached, but I reluctantly gave in. “Fine,” I grumbled. “I’ll stay out of it.”

Rohan conjured a sword, its sharp edge glinting in the faint light. As he turned to leave, I hesitated for a moment, unsure if I should stop him or let him go. But before I could think it through, my hand reached out and grabbed his arm, pulling him back. He looked back at me with confusion and for a split second, I questioned my actions. In that moment, all the noise and chaos of battle seemed to fade away, leaving only the rapid beating of my heart. My heart raced with conflicting emotions and I searched desperately for the right words to say.

Dust motes danced in the fractured sunlight filtering through the shattered throne room window. The air thrummed with the clash of steel on steel. I chewed on my lip, the taste metallic against my sudden dryness. My gaze darted around the room, landing on a toppled pillar, a splintered banner, anything but him.

“Freckles?”

My voice, when it finally came, was a mere tremor. “Promise… promise you’ll be careful,” I whispered, the words catching in my throat like tangled thread. The clang of metal somewhere in the distance echoed the clash inside me – worry warring with a terrifying affection I couldn’t name – threatening to spill over, making my voice thick and shaky.

A ghost of a smile touched his lips, amusement dancing in his eyes. “Always princess,” he murmured.

I looked away again, heat rising up my neck. I wanted to scream, to confess the avalanche of worry and… something more, something terrifying to even think of saying out loud. But the words caught in my throat, forming a painful knot. I hated feeling so vulnerable.

With a heavy sigh, I watched him go, a sense of unease settling over me like a heavy blanket.

 

Categories story

Dust and Light IV

My body convulsed in a violent spasm, the world around me blurring into a chaotic frenzy. My screams were guttural and unending, a primal cry for mercy that fell on deaf ears. The sound reverberated through the vast room, a chorus of desperation and pain. The agony raged within me like an inferno, ravaging my soul until all that remained was a smoldering husk of ash.

Each breath I took felt like a struggle, my lungs burning as if they were filled with molten fire. My body trembled uncontrollably, every nerve on fire with excruciating torture. It felt as though every piece of my being was consumed by an unyielding agony that refused to relent.

Weakness enveloped me like a chilling shroud. My limbs grew heavy, my movements sluggish. I felt myself slipping away, my consciousness fading into the encroaching darkness.

Then, everything seemed to collapse around me. The magical thread connecting me to the evil crystal, the source of my torment, trembled and faded. I felt a vibration coursing through the air. As I looked, I saw the crystal in Absinthya’s hand swell in size. It pulsed with a glow, casting an eerie light across the room. The queen’s maniacal laughter filled the hall, echoing like the roar of a victorious beast.

But then, a delicate noise pierced through the deafening laughter. The tinkling of breaking glass, a minuscule sound but heard by all with their sharp fey senses.

The crystal shattered like a star, exploding in a blinding flash that momentarily banished the oppressive semi-darkness. A gust of wind swept through the grand throne hall. I was too weak to react, but I could feel the magic moving through the space, every tendril of power returning to its rightful owner, while my Aunt’s enraged scream cut through the chaos like a knife.

I felt my own energy returning, like a river flowing back to its course. My strength slowly returned, my limbs regaining their vigor.

Slowly, I rose, my legs trembling beneath me. I swayed unsteadily, my vision still blurred. But with each passing moment, my senses sharpened, and the world around me came back into focus.

The symbols painted in my arms vanished before my eyes. The ropes, empowered by magic to hold my wrists to the iron bars, disintegrated along with the crystal. I flexed my wrists, testing my newfound freedom.

I stood there for a moment, taking in the scene around me. The queen’s throne lay shattered, its fragments scattered across the red marble floor. The once-majestic hall now lay in partial ruins. Windows shattered, furniture overturned, and chaos reigned supreme. The fey nobles who had watched with mocking smiles now fled in terror, their laughter replaced by panicked screams.

The crystal shattered, casting the throne room into chaos. Despite feeling weak, I managed to remain standing. A metallic tang filled my mouth – blood, my own, from a bite on my lip.  My eyes landed on Absinthya, crumpled on the cold floor, her silver hair obscuring her face.

Darkness, thick and suffocating, swallowed the whole room. The screams of the fleeing nobles were abruptly cut off, replaced by a chilling silence broken only by ragged gasps and choked sobs. Then, as if the world decided to breathe again, light seeped back in, revealing the carnage that had unfolded in those stolen moments. Bodies lay scattered across the room, their lifeless eyes staring up at the ceiling in frozen terror. Limbs contorted at unnatural angles, as if desperately trying to escape their grisly fate. Pools of blood seeped out from beneath them, forming macabre patterns on the floor. The scent of blood hung heavy in the air, mingling with the stench of fear and death.

In a flash, Rohan appeared next to me, his eyes burning with an otherworldly glow. The once familiar shades of blue and gray now danced like silver flames. Each glinting with an intensity that sent a tremor of heat through me. Their intensity stole my breath, leaving me gasping like a fish out of water.

Oh gods, why did he have to look at me like that? 

His talons, like obsidian blades dripping with the blood of those he had slain, revealed his true nature.  In that moment, a wave of chilling fear washed over me.  He wasn’t just my protector; he was a lethal weapon, a savage force unleashed against our foes.  My body trembled, unsure if it was from terror or desire, as his gaze held me captive. It was like a wildfire consuming me, awakening something wild and untamed. But the fear remained, like a poison coursing through my veins and preventing me from tearing my eyes away from him.

As if sensing my sudden apprehension, his fierce hands relaxed and retracted the deadly talons. The blood on his face gave him a savage appearance, but when he spoke in his deep, gravelly voice, I heard an unexpected gentleness I didn’t expect from someone with such deadly abilities.

“Don’t be afraid,” he reassured me, his eyes softening. In that moment, my perception shifted, and all I saw was the captivating beauty of this lethal being before me.

For a heartbeat, the world around us dissolved, leaving only the two of us locked in a silent dance. The carnage – some of the terrified nobles, spared by his mercy, scrambling over one another like ants, the approaching guards with their glinting blades– faded into the background. All I saw was Rohan, his presence radiating power, and an underlying hint of something primal, something dangerous.

His hand, warm and comforting, brushed against my arm as he checked for injuries.  Focus, Aerin. Focus . A jolt of electricity shot through me at the contact. My breath hitched, trapped in my throat. Shame burned in my gut, but a traitorous warmth bloomed in my chest. I wanted to pull away, to deny the undeniable heat that surged between us, but what if I didn’t want to? My body refused to obey, craving his touch with a hunger I couldn’t ignore.

“Are you ok?” he asked, concerned.

I nodded, though the intensity of his gaze made it difficult to find my voice. “I’m fine,” I managed to reply, my words a mere whisper amidst the chaos surrounding us. “I don’t need your help.”  Why did I say that?  I lied, pushing his hand away with a tremor that betrayed my defiance. The heat lingering on my skin even after the contact was broken.

Rohan’s jaw clenched for a brief moment, his gaze dropping to where I’d rejected his touch. A flicker of something unreadable passed through his eyes before it was masked by a stoic indifference. With a curt nod, he turned away, his features hardening as he squared his shoulders to face the approaching guards.

I watched him go, my heart pounding in my chest. The warmth of his touch remained, like a branding iron searing a mark on my skin and I couldn’t shake the feeling of his gaze on me. I was a mess of conflicting emotions. I wanted him desperately, but I knew I couldn’t have him. I knew I was in trouble. But I couldn’t help myself. I was drawn to him like a sailor to a siren’s song.

This was something deeper, something primal, a connection that transcended the boundaries of words.

And I was terrified of it.

A blur of midnight and moonlight, Rohan’s powerful form launched himself at the oncoming guards. With lethal grace, he moved like a whirlwind of dark fury, each blow a promise of oblivion.

 

Categories story

Dust and Light III

The elegant fey nobles shifted to make way for the witch’s approach, and a chill crept through my body. Every instinct screamed at me to flee.  Run, a desperate voice echoed within me,  get out of here before it’s too late!   All eyes were fixed on the old, hunched figure. She was ancient, her back bent with age, and her tattered black cloak trailed behind her like a dark shroud. A gnarled staff was clutched in her bony hands, and its tip tapped ominously against the marble floor as she strode forward. The silence in the grand hall was broken only by the eerie rhythm of her steps.

The witch’s crooked finger trembled as she pointed towards the large stone. Her voice, piercing and cold, echoed through the throne room as she barked her orders. “Put the girl on the stone,” she hissed.

A surge of primal terror coursed through me, overwhelming my senses until I couldn’t think or see straight. I lunged against the guard’s iron grip, thrashing and screaming “No!!” But my resistance was futile. Another guard appeared to secure my other arm firmly. My body convulsed with panicked resistance as they dragged me up to the cold, unforgiving surface. My wrists were bound tightly to the rusted iron bars, cutting into my skin and numbing my hands. I struggled against the restraints, muscles straining and heart racing as desperation clawed at my throat. All sense of bravery had fled my trembling body – replaced by a paralyzing fear that tightened its hold on my chest with each passing moment.

It seemed that now, my courage lay shattered on the marble floor, a mere whisper of its former strength, leaving me cold and trembling in the grips of unyielding fear.

Not like this, the panic coiled in my stomach, threatening to paralyze me. Please, anyone, help me.

The witch’s maniacal laughter pierced the air. “Oh, little Starborn,” she hummed ominously. “The moment we’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived.”

With each word she spoke, ice crept through my veins, freezing me to my core. I strained against the ropes binding my wrists, desperate to break free from this nightmare.

Absinthya took her place a few paces from the stone, her regal form bathed in the eerie glow of the torches. Her red eyes fixed on me with an intensity that sent a jolt of fear through my veins. Behind her, Rohan stood stoically, his imposing figure a silent sentinel.

The witch approached the stone altar, her gnarled fingers hovering over its intricate markings. Fear clawed at my insides as she began to chant in a guttural tongue. The symbols on the altar glowed with a foreboding crimson light.

Mother, father, anyone, please… I silently begged as fear consumed me.

The witch’s incantation ripped through the air, each word like a hammer striking my already battered soul. My vision twisted and blurred, the world contorting into a grotesque nightmare. A red thread, a pulsating umbilical cord to my death, erupted from my chest with an evil hiss, coiling around the queen’s crystal like a serpent, draining every last bit of life force from my body with insatiable hunger. But it wasn’t just life force it drained – it was every stolen laugh, every whispered secret, every cherished memory. Each one ripped away from me with violent greed, leaving behind only a vast emptiness where my soul used to reside.

Agony, a symphony of searing torment, ripped through me. It was an unbearable pain, like fire coursing through my veins and melting me from the inside out.

I screamed, a primal sound that clawed its way from the depths of my being. Every fiber of my existence writhed in protest as the darkness enveloped me. My screams turned hoarse, then ragged breaths escaping my lips, each one a desperate gasp for air that never came.

Through the crimson haze of torment, a faint echo reached me – Rohan’s voice, a distant beacon of hope struggling against the encroaching darkness.“Hold on, Aerin,”  his voice pleaded, strained but unwavering. “Fight it! Don’t give in!” But I was beyond hearing, beyond reason, lost in a sea of torment.

Desperation bled through Rohan’s voice as he urged me to keep fighting. “Don’t you dare give up,” he begged.

Yet, my body betrayed me, a puppet with severed strings, convulsed in a silent, agonizing dance. My screams became choked sobs, my vision blurring by tears as the darkness threatened to engulf me completely. I was drowning in a sea of pain, my strength flickering like a fragile ember on the verge of being extinguished.

The witch’s voice wavered, a hint of frustration seeping into her chant as she sensed my rapid weakening. “She’s fading too quickly,” she said, her tone laced with irritation.

Absinthya’s voice boomed like thunder, anger fueling every syllable as she roared, “Not yet!” Her command echoed through the room.

As the torment ravaged through me, I caught a faint sound amidst the chaos—a voice calling my name. “Aerin!” Rohan’s voice echoed through the large room, not just in my mind but in the physical space around me.

Gasps and horrified murmurs erupted from the crowd mingled with the throbbing ache in my head, their voices filled with shock and disbelief.  Through the haze, I forced my head to turn, the movement a huge effort against the invisible bonds of pain. Tears streamed down my face, blurring the scene into a watercolor nightmare.

There he was, Rohan, charging towards the queen. But a horrifying transformation had stolen the silver reassurance from his eyes. They were black pits, devoid of light, as if some monstrous entity had taken hold. A strangled sob escaped me, a choked gasp.

The queen’s command sliced through the air like a whip crack. “Down, pet.”

As if yanked by invisible chains, Rohan crumpled to his knees, his muscles bulging and tendons straining against the unearthly pressure. His teeth ground together, a low, guttural sound escaping through clenched jaws as he fought against the unseen shackles.

Every agonizing inch he gained towards her was met with a brutal yank back.

“I said down!”

The sickening crunch of his bones against the cold marble floor amplified the horror unfolding before me. Curses, raw and primal, erupted from his throat,mingling with the sounds of my own screams.

“I knew I couldn’t trust you!” Absinthya’s voice rang with a chilling triumph. The crystal pendant pulsed in her hand. Her other hand clenched into a fist, aimed directly at Rohan. He flipped onto his back, a guttural scream tearing from his throat as his back arched in agony.

Desperate, I clawed at the bonds anchoring me to the altar, a silent scream building in my chest. My voice, barely a whisper, tried to reach him. A word of comfort, a plea, anything. But I was weak, overwhelmed by pain and despair. My cheeks were wet, soaked by tears. Would I ever see the light again?

 


 

Slowly, my eyes blinked open, the world around me coming into focus. I was sprawled out in the midst of a lush, flower-filled grove, surrounded by a symphony of colors. A warm, ethereal light bathed the scenery, its gentle glow casting long shadows that danced playfully among the colorful flowers. The air was alive, pulsing with the lively melody of birdsong. Their sweet songs intertwined and enveloped me in a cocoon of serenity. It was as if nature itself had orchestrated this perfect harmony, just for my own enjoyment.

And in that moment, my heart felt at peace. All the pain and despair that had once consumed me seemed to fade away, replaced by a sense of peace that washed over me like a gentle wave.

This place feels like a dream.

I gazed out at the enchanting landscape before me, taking in every detail with childlike wonder. Delicate wildflowers carpeted the forest floor in a riot of hues, their petals swaying gently in the breeze. And as I breathed in the sweet fragrance, it was like all my senses were being awakened and rejuvenated.

Towering trees stood tall and majestic around me, their branches adorned with emerald leaves that glimmered in the sunlight. The canopy above filtered golden rays of light that created whimsical patterns on the forest floor, inviting me to step into this magical world and become part of its beauty.

Maybe this isn’t real. But for now, it’s perfect.

My lips curled into a faint smile, a flicker of warmth returning to my eyes. The beauty of this ethereal realm soothed my troubled soul, offering a respite from the relentless pain that had plagued me.

Suddenly, a flash of iridescent blue caught my eye. A small figure emerged from behind a towering oak, its movements graceful and fluid. My eyes widened as I recognized him. His blue skin glowed softly in the sunlight, and his eyes sparkled with an otherworldly brilliance.

“Pip!” I exclaimed, surprised to see my old friend. The enigmatic fairy I had met during my first days in the Fae world.

“Well, if it isn’t the Starborn herself,” Pip teased, his voice laced with a hint of mischief.

“It’s been a while. What brings you here?” I murmured.

Pip’s grin widened, his eyes twinkling with amusement. “I could ask you the same, my dear Aerin. You seem to have stumbled upon a rather pleasant sanctuary.”

My brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

Pip’s grin faltered, replaced by a fleeting shadow of concern. “Your mind has conjured this haven, Aerin, a refuge from the pain and fear that consume you. But remember, dear friend, this is not reality. The world still awaits, and you cannot remain here forever.”

My heart sank. “But I don’t want to go back,” I confessed, my voice trembling with fear. “It hurts too much.”

No, no! This… this is reality. This is where I belong. Not back there, with all that pain.

At that moment, a small figure emerged from the dense foliage, sitting down next to Pip. My eyes were immediately drawn to the child – a little boy with unruly ebony locks and gray eyes that glimmered with pure, untainted curiosity. He couldn’t have been more than three or four years old.

“Hello,” the child greeted, his voice soft in the tranquil air. “What are you doing here?”

I felt a pang of uncertainty as I met his gaze, wondering who he was and what he wanted. I forced a smile . “I’m just resting,” I replied, unsure of how to explain my presence in this ethereal realm.

Who is this child, and why does he seem so familiar?

The child tilted his head, his eyes wide with wonder. “What’s your name?” he asked, his voice filled with childlike curiosity.

My heart melted at his gentle demeanor. “I’m Aerin,” I replied. “And what’s your name?” I asked, hoping to make sense of the situation.

The child shrugged and with an innocent smile, he confessed. “I don’t know.”

Pip, with a playful grin, performed a quick trick, conjuring a cascade of iridescent soap bubbles. The child’s eyes lit up with delight, his laughter echoing through the forest as he chased after the dancing bubbles.

But I noticed something strange – the child seemed to be fading, his form becoming translucent as if he were nothing more than an illusion slowly dissipating into thin air.

“Pip!” I exclaimed. “What’s happening? Who is he? Why is he fading away?”

Pip’s gaze met mine, a hint of sorrow clouding his eyes. “The future, my friend,” he explained, his voice a gentle whisper. “A distant future, yet to be shaped. And the future, my dear, is uncertain. Especially now.”

But before I could fully comprehend the gravity of his words, Pip’s next words snapped me back to reality.

“Aerin, you need to go back,” his voice, heavy with urgency, broke the spell of tranquility. “You must go back.”

I hesitated, the thought of returning to the pain and suffering I had just escaped filling me with dread. But what choice do I have?  Deep down, I knew he was right. With a heavy heart and a sense of resignation, I nodded in agreement.

Tears pricked at the corners of my eyes as I murmured, “I hope I can see you again, my friend,” I whispered, my voice barely audible above the rustle of leaves.

Pip’s smiled, a hint of warmth in his eyes. “You will,” he said simply. “When the time’s right.”

I could feel my heart being crushed in my chest. I knew it was time to return, to face whatever trials awaited me. I can do this, I told myself, I have to. And when the agony engulfed me once again, a piercing scream escaped my lips, shattering the fragile peace of the forest and dragging me back into the cruel grip of despair.

Categories story

Dust and Light II

As I reluctantly allowed my gaze to drift back to Rohan, I found him just as cold and indifferent as before. He didn’t spare me a single glance, his silver eyes fixed on some distant point beyond the hall. It was as if I were nothing to him, a mere ghost haunting the edges of his world.

Why do I even bother?  I wondered bitterly, my heart heavy with frustration and longing.  He’ll never see me as anything more than a nuisance. 

Beside him, Absinthya noticed the direction of my gaze, her hand landed possessively on Rohan’s thigh, her fingers pressing lightly as if staking her claim.

As if he’s some prize to be won, I thought scornfully.

She smirked at me, her eyes daring me to make a move.

“Well, well, well,” she purred in that sickly sweet way of hers. “Looks like my dear niece can’t resist peeking at what she’ll never have.Tell me, girl, do you honestly believe someone like Rohan could ever stoop so low as to be with you?”

My heart twisted painfully at her words, knowing deep down that she was right. I forced myself to keep a straight face, clenching my fists to quell the rage and humiliation bubbling inside me.

“Maybe you’re right, Auntie dearest,” I retorted, my voice dripping with disdain. “But why would I want someone like him? A cold-hearted assassin, an insufferable arrogant prick who revels in his own cruelty. I’d rather rot in the dungeons than be subject to his caprices and fancies.”

Next to her, Rohan was a statue, his face a mask of inscrutable stone as he clutched the arms of his throne with a vice-like grip. It was clear that my words had provoked a reaction, but whether it was out of anger or something else entirely, I couldn’t be sure.

The queen’s laughter filled the hall like shards of glass, each cackle making my skin crawl. “Such insolence,” she sneered, her eyes glinting with pure malice. “You truly are your mother’s daughter. Pity she couldn’t teach you some manners.”

I held my chin high, my gaze defiant. “I may lack manners, but at least I haven’t lost my integrity,” I said, my voice steady despite the storm raging within me. “But I suppose that’s a lesson you never learned, Absinthya.”

Take that, Aunt,  I thought triumphantly. You can’t break me, no matter how hard you try.

Rohan remained silent, his grip on the arms of the throne tightening with each passing moment. But in the depths of his silver eyes, I thought I detected a flicker of something—regret, perhaps, or maybe even a hint of admiration.

Absinthya rose from her throne, her movements deliberate and menacing, her cruel smile never wavering. Her eyes, a blazing red like burning embers, locked onto me with a terrifying intensity. The grotesque fairies shuffled aside, their sinister chuckles filling the hall with an eerie echo. My arm throbbed under the guard’s tightened grip, but I refused to cower. I met Absinthya’s gaze head on, determination shining through my fear.

With a wicked grin, Absinthya descended the steps towards me, radiating perversion and power. She grabbed my chin roughly, causing me to flinch at her touch. “Your courage is admirable, Aerin,” she hissed. “But let’s see how long it lasts when the pain begins.”

My insides twisted with fear at her words, but I refused to show weakness. With a harsh shove, the queen released me. That’s when I caught a glimpse of something—or someone—partially hidden in the shadows. Oh gods, it’s him, I realized, shock coursing through me as I recognized Erantheus, the same fairy I had encountered on my journey to Rivoen. But what was he doing here? Then, it all clicked into place. It was Erantheus who had informed my aunt about me. Because of him, I was in this mess. Anger surged through me, my fists clenching at my sides. That damn traitor! How could he?

Hesitantly, Erantheus moved further from the shadows, his strange form becoming clearer as he approached the queen. His arms swung wildly, and with each step, his head twitched incessantly, his movements restless, as if unable to stay still. As he neared, a wave of fury washed over me. You treacherous piece of shit! I’ll make you regret ever crossing me. 

He turned to the queen, delivering a message with a sickeningly sweet tone. “The witch says it’s time,” he announced, his gaze lingering on me for a moment longer before darting away.

I let out a primal growl of rage before I lunged forward, intent on tearing him apart with my bare hands, but the guard held me back. “You cowardly traitor!” I snarled, my voice thick with rage. “I’ll kill you!”

With a final, taunting glance in my direction, Erantheus fled from the throne hall, disappearing into the darkness beyond.

Absinthya laughed cruelly. “Seems like my sweet little niece has quite the temper,” she sneered, her eyes glittering with amusement. “How entertaining. But unfortunately for you, my dear, anger won’t get you very far in this situation. You’ll soon find that out… in more… painful ways.”

The queen’s words sliced through me like sharpened blades, each syllable a fresh wound. My throat tightened, and I swallowed hard, the lump in my throat refusing to budge.

Rohan rose from his throne, his footsteps echoing in the large hall as he made his way down the steps, his hands casually tucked into his pockets. The grotesque fairies scurried away from him like frightened rats.

Absinthya turned to face Rohan, a wicked grin spreading across her lips. “Are you sad to lose your little toy?” she asked him, in a mocking tone.

Rohan’s approach was as deliberate as a glacier’s flow. His mesmerizing silver eyes locked onto mine, holding me captive in their frigid depths. He paused beside the queen, his gaze flickering over her for a moment before returning to me with a cruel smirk tugging at his lips. When he spoke, his voice was as sharp as ice against stone: “Why would I waste my tears on something so insignificant?” he drawled, sending another wave of pain crashing over me. But I knew it was an act, a mask to protect our plan from the queen. He was playing his role, just like I was playing mine. Still, his words hurt like hell.

The queen’s satisfaction was palpable as she praised Rohan’s reply. “Well said, my dear,” she purred. “It seems you’ve finally come to your senses.”

She gave a slight nod to the guard, who with bruising force pulled me towards the stone bed…or altar… I couldn’t quite bring myself to name that sinister structure. My feet stumbled on the floor as fear clenched my stomach. I was a prisoner in my own fleshy cage, forced to walk towards my own doom.

I felt utterly alone, adrift in a sea of darkness and despair. I never imagined this would be my fate.

A voice, familiar yet distant, broke through the chaos in my mind. “You’re not alone,” Rohan’s voice whispered, its comforting tone echoing in my head.

A wave of anger washed over me. How dare he invade my thoughts? “Stop invading my mind!” I demanded, pushing him away with all my might.

“You’re not alone,” Rohan repeated, his voice a gentle caress, a good soother against the raw terror consuming me. “I’m here, Aerin. Remember, you’re stronger than you know. You can face this.” His words were a lifeline, pulling me back from the brink of despair.

Despite his attempts to calm me, my anger burned hot and fierce. I built walls in my mind to keep him out, determined to face my fate alone.

His presence lingered in my mind for a moment longer, a faint echo of his comforting words. Then, just as suddenly as he appeared, he was gone. Leaving me alone once again to face my fears and doubts.

 

 

Categories story

The crypt VII [ FINAL]

A strangled scream tore from my throat as I struggled, pinned beneath the creature’s weight. Her hair, as black as night, whipped against my face, and the icy chill of her claws pierced my skin.

“Please, no,” I whimpered, my voice barely a whisper. “Let me go.”

“Aerin,” she whispered, her voice raspy and harsh. “Aerin, Aerin, Aerin.”

The name echoed through the walls of my nightmare, each repetition a cruel blow to my heart. I tried to move, to fight, but it was as if I was trapped in a swamp, sinking deeper and deeper into the darkness.

I woke up with a start, my heart pounding frantically in my chest. Cold sweat soaked my tattered dress, and the terror of the dream still hung in the air like a thick fog.

It took me a few minutes to compose myself, to separate reality from fantasy. But the memory of the dream was too vivid, the name echoing in my ears like a sinister omen.

I knew what it meant. I was marked for death.

I let out a shaky breath, trying to quell the rising panic. I had known this day would come, ever since I was captured by my aunt and imprisoned in this dark cell. But I hadn’t expected it to feel so… terrifying. The thought of my own death, of my life being snuffed out like a candle in the wind, filled me with a primal fear.

At that moment, the cell door opened, and a guard walked in. I couldn’t hide my surprise; instead of one of the queen’s monstrous fairies, there stood a human. His brown eyes bulged with fear, and his face was pale as death.

“I heard her screams,” he said, his voice trembling. “The Banshee… she was here.”

He stared at me with a mixture of pity and terror. “I know what it means,” he whispered. “You won’t survive the ritual.”

I blinked, puzzled by his unexpected concern. “But… why would you care?” I stammered. “Aren’t you loyal to the queen?”

He shook his head, a mixture of pity and despair in his eyes. “I serve her against my will,” he confessed, his voice laden with sadness. “I was hoping you’d survive.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat, forcing the words past the fear constricting my chest. “Even if this darkness claims me, I’m glad to know I’ll be helping others,” I murmured. “I would have liked to survive, but I’m ready for whatever fate awaits me.”

The guard nodded solemnly. “The queen is waiting,” he said quietly.

I got up from the cold floor and followed the guard out of the cell. Before we left, he turned to me and said, his voice low and laden with sadness: “I’m sorry.”

I didn’t say anything. There was nothing to say.

As we walked down the dimly lit corridor, my mind raced. I thought about my family, my friends, my life. I thought about all the things I would never get to experience.

A tear rolled down my cheek, and I quickly wiped it away. I took a deep breath and steeled myself for what was to come. I would face my fate with courage, even if it meant my death.

Categories story

The crypt VI

The crypt’s corridors seemed to writhe and coil like the belly of a serpent, making it difficult to navigate. Sylvenna and Thistle had taken a different path, disappearing through a passage that led to the palace kitchen. Rohan and I walked in stifling silence, as if we were submerged underwater. My mind was a tempestuous ocean, swirling with questions and doubts.

Why did everything have to be so damn complicated?

The only source of light in the dark, damp tunnels were a few feeble, ethereal blue flames flickering in sconces along the walls. Their dancing shadows seemed to take on a life of their own, playing sinister games with our perception. The occasional drip of water echoed through the labyrinth, adding to the eerie atmosphere. The shadows crept and crawled across the dank walls, mimicking our movements in a sinister dance.

The weight of this dangerous plan hung heavy on my shoulders,like a dense storm cloud ready to burst at any moment.

What if I don’t make it out alive? What if I never see my friends and family again? The thought lingered like a specter, haunting my every step.

“So,” Rohan’s voice interrupted my tumultuous thoughts. “Who is Gareth? Another knight in shining armor from your past?” he inquired, his tone gentle, almost curious.

I shot him a sidelong glance, yanked out from the hurricane in my head for a second. Gareth… His name echoed within me, stirring memories and emotions I buried long ago. He’s just a dear friend now, nothing more.

“He’s, uh, someone from back home,” I mumbled, “A dear friend.”

The darkness seemed to swallow us whole as we made our way through the twisting, dark corridors. The only noise our breathing and the soft thud of Rohan’s steps. Then,suddenly, he sucked in a sharp breath and whispered my name.

“Aerin.” his voice low and hushed, as if afraid to disturb the stillness of the place.

We came to a sudden halt, and I turned to face him fully. His usually stoic expression was now sculpted from granite, every line etched with a tension I hadn’t seen before. The flickering blue light cast deep shadows, highlighting the crease between his brows. Was it… fear? Worry?

My heart raced, confused by his sudden change. “What is it?” I whispered, my gaze locked onto his, desperately searching for a clue, any hint of what stirred beneath his calm exterior.

“This is insane,” he muttered, his words strained and hesitant. “There has to be another way.”

“There isn’t,” I blurted out, the urgency in my voice surprising even myself. “We need to go,” my voice shaking slightly, desperate to break the unsettling tension. “The illusion I cast on the cell won’t hold for much longer. Every second we waste here…”

But as I turned to continue, a firm grip encircled my wrist. It wasn’t a tight hold, but it was enough to freeze me in place. The touch of Rohan’s hand sent both shivers and sparks coursing through my body, but his piercing gray eyes held me captive. Despite the coldness of the crypt, there was a fiery intensity in his gaze that made the rest of the world melt away.

Is it fear or something else that I see in his eyes?

“Aerin,” he repeated, his voice firm yet tinged with a tremor I wouldn’t have believed possible just moments before. “You don’t have to do this.”

I hesitated, his intense gaze rooting me to the spot. A part of me, the selfish part, wanted to believe him. To throw caution to the wind and run, to leave this danger behind. But the memory of Grizpik’s chilling words echoed in my mind.

“It’s the only option,” I countered, my voice shaking despite my efforts to sound resolute. “You heard the goblin.”

Rohan’s eyes searched mine, his expression filled with conflict. “Are you… sure about this ?” His worry felt heavy, making the air tight. Even the shadows stood still, as if waiting. “You really don’t need to do this.”

His worry weighed heavily on me, like an anchor pinning me to the ground. Was it fear for my well-being or apprehension about the dangers I now faced because of his decisions? I couldn’t tell. Doubt gnawed at my heart like acid. Maybe he was genuinely worried about the danger I was in. But a cynical part of me wondered if he was just feeling remorse for putting me in risk, rather than truly caring about me.

The truth hid behind an impenetrable veil, shrouded in mystery. But there’s no turning back now. I have to go through with this, for everyone’s sake.

“I need to try,” I mumbled, my voice trembling. “It’s the only way, and we don’t have time to consider anything else. With or without a plan, I’m already doomed either way.”

A decaying statue loomed in front of us, a forgotten king bathed in the eerie bluish-green light of the crypt. Moss, like emerald veins, crawled across its surface; each tendril whispered secrets only the dead could understand.

If I don’t make it through this… What then?

A heavy sigh escaped my lips, a wisp of vapor coiling upwards like a phantom question mark.

“If…” I began, my voice a mere tremor, “If I don’t make it through this…”

“Don’t,”  he interrupted, his voice low and gravelly, cutting through the chill air like a blade. His eyes, stormy as winter skies, locked onto mine with an intensity that momentarily chased away my doubts. “You will make it. Thistle will inform everyone and make escape plans. We can’t afford to dwell on ‘if’. We need to focus on ‘when.’ ”

He’s right, Aerin. Positivity. Focus on the ‘when,’ not the ‘if.’

His words, though laced with reassurance, only managed to partially thaw the icy tendrils of fear that coiled around my heart. The danger lurked like a suffocating presence, its grip tightening with each passing moment. But, in Rohan’s conviction, I found a strength to cling to, a lifeline amidst the raging storm.

I scrutinized his face, searching for a sign, anything that might betray the depth of his true feelings. Was it merely the resolve of a leader or something more personal?

“I know it’s dangerous,” Rohan confessed, a rare glimpse of vulnerability crossing his stoic features, “but we have to keep hope alive. Thistle will take care of everything, and we’ll make our escape together.”

Reluctantly, I nodded, my gaze lingering on the crypt’s shadows as if searching for answers hidden in their inky depths. The weight of his words bore down on me, intensifying the stakes of our dangerous situation. Yet, beneath my palpable fear, a delicate thread of hope intertwined with my doubts.

“Then I’m putting my trust in that moment,” I replied, doing my best to embrace his certainty. “When we make it through—not if.”

His gaze intensified, the blue in his eyes blazing like torches in the dim crypt. “You won’t be alone,” he promised with unwavering determination. “I’ll be right there with you.”

His assurance, so fervent and so fierce, sparked a fragile flame of courage within me. Together, perhaps we could face this darkness.

——–

As we continued on, my steps felt heavier, burdened by the weight of uncertainty. The world seemed to press down on my shoulders, and I yearned for the lightness of Eshelean.

“Did you enter the fey world through the Blackcrystal Forest?” Rohan inquired, a furrow forming between his brows.

World? Not…Region?

My nod confirmed his suspicion.

“Once, a powerful magical barrier divided our worlds. Stronger in the distant past, before the great war against the demons, it kept everything separate,” he explained. “During that war, rifts were deliberately created in the barrier, allowing elves, dwarves, and even some humans to cross over and fight alongside us. Today, remnants of that barrier linger on the border of the forest, weakened and riddled with breaches. These openings are how humans stumble upon our realm, seeking refuge from elven persecution. But this isn’t a haven for them, nor is it entirely safe for you.

Even so, I’d like to stay a little longer, explore, and maybe get to know my mother better.

“When all this is over, I wish I could stay in Eshelean a little longer,” I murmured. My heart ached with what I couldn’t say next: with you.

Rohan glanced at me, his eyes flickering with a hint of something unreadable. “You should return to Príbora,” he replied, his voice rough and distant. “It’s not safe for you here.”

A pang of sadness shot through me, like a knife slicing through my heart. Did he truly want to be rid of me so quickly?

I swallowed the lump in my throat, forcing a smile to my lips. “Are you so eager to get rid of me?” I teased, my voice light and playful, masking the pain that threatened to spill over.

Rohan’s expression softened, and he reached out to brush a strand of hair from my face. “It’s not that I want to get rid of you,” he said, his voice gentle. “It’s that I want you to be safe.”

Of course he is. He’s just being the noble hero, protecting the innocent maiden from harm.

I scoffed, a tinge of irritation creeping back into my voice, as I pulled away from his touch. “Safe from what, exactly?I’m not a child, Rohan,” I retorted. “I can take care of myself.”

Rohan chuckled, a sardonic glint in his eyes. “Oh, forgive me, princess. I forgot you’re the fearless warrior who stumbled into the fey world by accident.”

I shot him an irritated glare. “Accident or not, I’m here now, and I can handle myself better than you think.”

Rohan’s eyes softened, a flicker of genuine concern replacing the usual sarcasm “I know you can, Aerin,” he admitted, his gaze holding a trace of bare sincerity. “It’s just… I’ve seen too much loss, too much pain. I don’t want you to go through that.”

His unexpected sincerity disarmed me. The harsh edge of my irritation began to melt. “Rohan…I…”  The tenderness in his voice caught me off guard, leaving me speechless. For a moment, our gazes locked, and I felt a strange connection between us, a bond that transcended our differences.

Then, just as quickly, the moment was gone, and Rohan turned away, his face once again a mask of determination.

“We need to keep moving,” he said, his voice rough.

As we continued on, the tension between us simmered. Rohan’s enigmatic demeanor left me brooding. One moment, he seemed indifferent, eager to be rid of me perhaps, but then a flicker of warmth, a hint of something similar to fondness, would cross his face. It was enough to make a girl want to throw her hands up in exasperation.

“If the gods allow,” I murmured, my voice carrying a hint of defiance, “I plan to spend a few days in Rivoen with Eryone.”

The response was swift and sharp, a viper striking at the slightest provocation. Rohan’s scowl deepened, his disapproval evident.”Feys like Eryone and Murtagh,” he spat the names with disdain, “are the ones you should distance yourself from.”

Surprise flickered across my face, quickly morphing into an escalating irritation. “Why? Why exactly is that, oh wise one?” I challenged, my tone dripping with sarcasm. “What’s your issue with Eryone?”

How dare he speak of my mother like that?

His eyes darkened, and his voice hardened with a bitter conviction. “Eryone is a master manipulator. A cunning viper disguised in silk.” he stated, “and let’s not forget,” he added, his voice dropping to a low growl, “her not-so-subtle role in the death of my family. Everyone knew her little affair with Murtagh.”

My breath hitched. Shock and anger warred within me, a venomous cocktail curdling in my gut. “That’s a blatant lie!” I spat, my voice tight with outrage. “My mother-”

“Your mother,” he interrupted, his voice carrying a sardonic tone, “was far from innocent in all this, Aerin. Don’t be so quick to defend a woman you barely know.”

“No,” I protested, my voice trembling with a mixture of anger and disbelief. “You’re wrong. Eryone would never…” My words faltered.

Rohan’s words were like icy blades, each one piercing deeper than the last. “She may not have had an active role, but she knew. She knew and didn’t tell anyone. She wanted my father to fall,” he asserted, his voice filled with bitterness and accusation.

I scoffed, barely containing the explosion of fury threatening to erupt. “And what about you, Rohan?” I hissed, my temper reaching a boiling point.”The cold-blooded murderer who sees himself as a hero?”

Rohan’s stormy eyes met mine, unwavering and icy. “Some truths are like bitter potions, Aerin,” he said, his voice low. “You’ll swallow them eventually. In time, you’ll see.”

Bitter potions, my arse. I glared at him, my jaw clenched tight.

My eyes filled with tears, but I blinked them back furiously. Rohan’s words felt like a cruel twist of the knife, but I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing me break.

“If you think my mother is some evil monster,” I spat, my voice tight with a mixture of anger and hurt, “then forget about being friends.”

A careless shrug and a cold smirk played on his lips. “Friends? Never part of the deal, sweetheart. We’re just two sides working towards the same goal.”

His nonchalance stung worse than any harsh words. A hollow ache spread through my chest, squeezing the air from my lungs.

“I… I thought…” My voice cracked, the words catching in my throat like a choked sob. Maybe… what? Maybe we could be more? The thought felt like a naive dream shattered against the cruel reality of his words.

Rohan’s eyes turned glacial. “Thought what, Aerin?” His voice dripped with scorn.”That we could be… buddies? Don’t be ridiculous.” His laughter was bitter and empty.”You’re Eryone’ daughter. There’s no room for friendship, not with the daughter of a enemy. If you truly believed that, you’re nothing but a foolish little girl.”

A furious heat rose to my cheeks. How could I be so blind? Shame burned in my gut, a bitter taste in my mouth after the connection I had dared to believe. Tears brimmed in my eyes, ready to spill over at any moment, but I swallowed them back tightly. I wouldn’t let him see my weakness. Arguing with this arrogant male was like wrestling with a rock – pointless and utterly infuriating. Let him wallow in his self-proclaimed hero complex.

“This foolish girl,” I choked out, my voice raw with emotion, thick with the tears I refused to shed. “Knowing everything I know now, I could run and warn the queen. I could warn Absinthya about the dangers of the opposing forces in the crystal. Maybe… maybe I could find a way to delay my fate, even if just for a little while.” A choked sob escaped my lips. “Instead, here I am, a pawn in this twisted game, risking everything – my life, my freedom – to save your sorry ass and those other prisoners.”

A flicker of regret, brief but genuine, softened the stormy depths of Rohan’s eyes. He opened his mouth, the hint of remorse roughening his voice. “Aerin, I—”

“Enough,” I said, cutting him off with a raised hand, my voice surprisingly steady despite the tremor in my heart. “I don’t want to hear it. Your words have done enough.”

His gaze held a flicker of something similar to… was it pleading? Understanding?

“I never meant…”  He started, his voice faltering. “It’s not about you. Your mother—”

“SHE’S MY MOTHER!” I snapped, my tone laced with steel, the words ringing out sharply in the tense air.

An unsettling silence fell, thick with tension.

“But don’t worry,” I said coldly, burying the pain under a frosty exterior. “I won’t risk our plan.”

I took a few steps back, putting distance between us. But as I looked around the crypt, the dark corridor seemed to stretch on endlessly, and I had no idea how to get out of here.

With a frustrated sigh, I turned back to Rohan, my steps more determined this time. Without a word, I reached for his hand, my grip firm and demanding. “Cell. Now.”

Rohan hesitated. He opened his mouth to speak, but I silenced him with a steely glare.

“No explanations. Just do it,” I demanded, my tone leaving no room for argument.

Reluctantly, he complied, and we vanished from the cold corridor.

The moment our bodies touched, a wave of heat washed over me. It was a mix of anger, frustration, and desire, an electricity that left me dizzy.

I knew I couldn’t fall for Rohan. He was an enigma, a man with dark secrets and a haunted past. But the truth was, it was already too late. I was already in love with him, and that’s why his words cut so deep.

The familiar rush of teleporting subsided, leaving a dull ache throbbing in my temples. Rohan stumbled slightly, his hand pressed against the cool stone wall for support. His face pale and slick with sweat.

I paid little attention to him. Without a word, I distanced myself from him, avoiding eye contact. The illusion was fading, but we had made it in time.

A hoarse croak escaped his lips, “Aerin…” His voice sounded slightly breathless from the effort.

He opened his mouth, perhaps to offer a half-hearted apology, but the words died on his lips.

“Just go,” I croaked, the words a ragged gasp escaping my constricted throat.

“I’m sorry… I didn’t…” His voice trailed off, his form dissolving into shadows like a wisp of smoke in the cold air. His gaze, usually filled with an icy storm, flickered with a hint of… regret? The absurdity of the notion almost made me scoff.

“It doesn’t matter,” I whispered, the words a mere tremor escaping my lips. They were meant to be a shield, a defense against the storm of emotions threatening to engulf me. But even to my own ears, they rang hollow.

Because the truth was, it did matter. It mattered a lot.

The air shimmered, the last echo of his form dissolving like a cruel mirage. Tears, hot and silent, spilled down my cheeks, blurring the world into a watercolor mess. I slumped against the cold stone, sobs wracking my body—a silent echo of the love that bloomed unexpectedly in my heart. A love that, like the warmth of his touch, was already fading into a cherished memory.

Categories story

The crypt V

No, no, no. This can’t be real.

“Release me, Aerin,” he pleaded, his voice husky with emotion. “We can escape together. With your powers, we can be free.”

This can’t be happening. Is this real? It feels real.

As he spoke, his words were like a seductive melody, luring me in with their sweet promises. I felt myself getting tangled in his words, unable to resist the pull of the past and the possibility of rekindled love.

“Please, Aerin,” Gareth implored, his eyes locking onto mine with a desperate intensity. “I love you. Don’t let them keep us apart.”

Love? Can it truly be love?

“Aerin, don’t listen to him!” Rohan’s voice snapped, sharp as a whip. “He’s not who you think he is. It’s a trick!”

But it feels so real. Every detail, every word. It all fit. 

I felt a sudden burst of energy, like tiny electric shocks spreading through my body. My hands began to tingle and a warm glow surrounded me. My powers. I knew I could use them to save him, and the thought alone was enough to make me consider unleashing them in an instant. The idea made my fingers twitch with anticipation.

Maybe I can save him. Maybe this is real.

“Aerin, stop!” Rohan’s voice sliced through the chamber, commanding and authoritative. But I couldn’t tear my gaze away from Gareth. His presence filled the room, drowning out all reason and doubt.

Ignoring Rohan’s warning, I moved closer to Gareth. The world seemed to fade away, leaving only us in a halo of light.

Just a little more, and I can free him.

Rohan’s voice rang out again, this time thick with desperation and a hint of fear. “Aerin, you have to stop!”

My heart hammered, torn between the desperate plea in Gareth’s voice and Rohan’s frantic warnings. Ignoring the tremor in my hand, I lunged for Gareth, a jolt of power ripping through me. It was as if my very essence had awakened, a brilliant light threatening to burst forth. My love. I miss you.

I was ready to release Gareth from his binds. Let him go. The words formed in my mind, a silent command to my powers. The ropes were cut, he was free!

“Stupid girl!” Someone curses.

A dark figure lunged from the shadows, a glint of steel flashing in the dim light.

Blood sprayed accompanied by a strangled gasp.

The metallic scent of blood filled my nostrils as I saw the red stream gushing from Gareth’s throat.

No!  My powers faltering and flickering like a dying flame.

Gareth crumpled, a lifeless puppet severed from its strings. A pool of blood spread beneath his lifeless form, staining the unforgiving stone floor.

Reality sunk in at a snail’s pace. Rohan stood before me, his hand tightly gripping a bloodied dagger. His features twisted into a mask of cold fury.

“What the fuck were you thinking?” His voice was a low growl, barely containing his anger.

My vision swam, the world tilting around me in a dizzying dance of shadow and light. I fixed Rohan with a stare sharpened by betrayal, every fiber of my being vibrating with anger. “Murderer!” I hissed, my voice cracking as I stepped toward him, my heart thundering in my chest. “You killed him!”

“Aerin!” Rohan’s voice iced over as he snarled my name. “It was an illusion, a glamour. He wasn’t who you believed him to be.”

But I wasn’t listening. My blood boiled with fury. “Liar!” I roared, my fist landing with a bone-crushing force on his chest. The power coursing through me made my eyes glow, and crackling sparks of energy sparked from my fingertips, out of my control.

How could he not be real? It felt so vivid, so tangible!

Blinded by fury, I ripped at Rohan’s sleeve with ferocity, my nails leaving a fiery mark on his skin. He winced, but I didn’t notice. I was lost in the tempest of conflicting emotions.

With a rough tug on my arm, he spun me around. My head whipped back, disoriented. “Look,” he commanded, his tone hard and unforgiving, gesturing towards the crumpled figure sprawled on the cold stone.

Reluctantly, I obeyed. My eyes fixated on the grotesque transformation unfolding before me. The illusion dissipated like smoke, and a strangled gasp escaped my lips. Horrified, my eyes widened as I beheld the true form of the fey traitor.

His scaly green body, marked with yellow patches, twisted horns protruding from his lizard-like head. His lifeless yellow eyes stared back at me, his forked tongue hanging limply from his half-open mouth.

Gradually, the storm raging inside me began to calm. The fog of confusion lifted, and I finally saw the truth. I realized that I had been on the brink of madness. It wasn’t Gareth. It wasn’t real. I no longer felt the deep love I believed I held for him, only a lingering affection muddled by the fey’s twisted magic.

Rohan’s voice pierced the tension. “You were only looking at him for a few moments, and he nearly drove you mad. Give him a little more time, and he could have dominated your mind completely.”

Sylvenna’s gently offered an explanation, her words a soothing balm to my frayed nerves. “Because you’re half-fey, your mind is more vulnerable. He could infiltrate your thoughts more easily than he could with a pure fey.”

Shame and regret washed over me as I turned to face Rohan. “I’m sorry,” I choked out, my voice heavy with remorse.

But then, my gaze landed on the gash I had inflicted on his arm. My heart plummeted as I reached out to touch it, but he flinched away.

“It’s fine,” he reassured, though I could see the strain in his eyes. He was weakened, unable to heal quickly.

“I’ll bandage it,” Sylvenna offered, her voice soft even though everything was messy and confusing.

“Are you done with the drama?” Grizpik’s gruff voice reverberated in the chamber,”I’ve got other things to do.” The goblin’s impatience was evident.

“Hurry!” Thistle urged. “Time is running out.”

Rohan sank into the empty chair, the one where the traitor had been just moments ago. A flicker of pain crossed his face. Sylvenna’s skilled hands worked quickly, pulling out bandages and ointments from her worn pouch. Her touch was gentle as she cleaned and dressed his wound, but even her gentleness couldn’t stop his hiss when the antiseptic hit the raw flesh.

Shame burned in my throat, acrid and suffocating. I couldn’t bear to look at Rohan’s face, his arm being tended to, and his eyes avoiding mine. Every fiber of my being yearned to reach out, to apologize again, but the words wouldn’t come.

What have I done? How could I have been so foolish?

“Spit it out, goblin!” Rohan growled, his narrowed eyes boring into Grizpik. “How do we destroy the damn crystal?”

Grizpik’s twisted smile spread across his face as he reached out a hand toward me, his claws glinting in the dim light. “Payment first, pretty one.” I noticed his hungry eyes fixated on my hair, almost salivating.

Disgusting creature.

Fury burned in my throat. “Absolutely not!” I spat back, glaring at the persistent goblin. “My hair stays exactly how it is.”

Grizpik’s grin, if possible, widened further. “Come now, little one,” he coaxed, his voice dripping with false charm. “Just a tiny snip of that beautiful hair. Surely you can spare a bit?”

Rohan’s lips curved into a mocking smile. “Oh, don’t be such a delicate flower, princess. It’s just a lock of hair, not a limb.”

I bit my lip, torn between anger and the desperate need to get this information. Finally, I conceded, “Fine. One small lock. But not a single strand more.”

Rohan rose from the chair, his arm now bandaged, and walked over to me, dagger in hand – the same one he used on the traitor, yuck. The sight made me cringe, but he only chuckled with a devilish grin. He positioned himself behind me, way too close, and started fiddling with my hair. His fingers brushed my neck, sending a jolt through me. I could swear he did it on purpose, lingering a touch too long.

Damn him and his charm.

Heat flooded my cheeks. “Just get it over with already.” I mumbled, trying to sound annoyed but failing miserably.

He chuckled, a low rumble that tickled my ear. With practiced ease, he selected a small section beneath the thick layers of my hair and – snip! – a lock fell free.

He held it up, amusement dancing in his eyes. “You won’t even notice it’s gone,” he taunted with a cocky smirk.

I shot him an obscene gesture, and he laughed.

Grizpik’s grubby fingers snatched the hair the moment Rohan offered it, practically shoving it under his nose. With creepy intensity, he inhaled deeply like it were a drug. “Ah, the sweet aroma of woodland lilacs,” he breathed, a creepy satisfaction in his voice.

Could he be any more repulsive?

Thistle was a bundle of nerves, his body swaying like a pendulum oscillating wildly. Sylvenna, bless her heart, tried to calm him down with a hand on his arm.

Rohan’s biceps bulged as he folded his arms over his chiseled chest. “You’ve got your payment, now spit it out.” he demanded with impatience.

I watched anxiously, my fingertips tapping against each other in a nervous rhythm as I waited for Grizpik’s response.

The goblin’s malicious grin stretched wider, revealing his jagged teeth as he spoke. “You have to destroy the queen’s fancy little crystal known as The Eternal,” he said in a gruff and guttural voice, “Its power can be reversed by shattering it, releasing the trapped energies back to their owners. However, it is necessary to contain opposing powers, such as light and darkness.”

A cold shiver snaked down my spine as Grizpik paused, his gaze flicking between Rohan and me.

“When the crystal is broken, the queen will lose her power and become mortal,” he continued, “The crystal already holds the essence of darkness, but…”

I finished his sentence, my voice trembling with both fear and resignation, “But it needs my light magic, doesn’t it?”

Grizpik’s smile returned, a cruel crescent moon mocking my fear.

“Absolutely not!” Rohan boomed before I could even blink. “Too dangerous!”

But even as he spoke, I knew deep down that there was no other option. We had to destroy the crystal, no matter the cost. Even if it meant risking my own life.

I shook my head, determination sparking in my eyes. “It’s not your decision to make, Rohan” I said, my voice surprisingly steady despite the tremor in my hands.

“Oh, no,” Sylvenna whispered, her voice trembling with sorrow.

Thistle looked like a ghost, swaying slightly on his feet.

“The queen doesn’t have a clue that this ritual can end her plans, right?” I muttered.

Grizpik, nodded and continued.”But beware, young one,” he added, his voice dropping to a bone-chilling rasp. “Breaking The Eternal is no easy feat. It’s painful, excruciating even. You might not even survive it. And even if you do, the energy drain could still claim your life.”

I swallowed hard, my throat suddenly dry. My heart pounded against my ribs, a frantic drum solo in the face of death. This was a suicide mission, and I knew it. Yet, the words spilled out before I could stop them, barely above a whisper, “I’ll do it.”

Why does bravery always feel a little terrifying?

Rohan crossed his arms again, muscles flexing beneath the strong frame of his chest. “There has to be another way,” he growled, frustration and fear twisting his voice.

Grizpik remained impassive. “Breaking the crystal is the only solution,” he said, his voice flat and emotionless.

My breath hitched. “I’ll do it, Rohan,” I said, my voice gaining strength with each word. “We have no other choice.”

Rohan’s piercing gaze held mine, his eyes a storm of emotions – worry, anger, something deeper I couldn’t place. “Aerin, it’s too damn dangerous. There has to be another option.”

I stubbornly shook my head again, insisting, “It’s my choice.” But this time, deep down, a flicker of doubt emerged, a quiet voice of terror struggling against my rising tide of determination.

I spun around to ask a question to the goblin, but he just smirked and vanished into thin air.

Well, that was predictable.

Categories story

The crypt IV

Rohan’s gaze was like a frozen bolt, piercing the prisoner before us. The anger radiating from him was intense, almost tangible, making the air around us feel charged. His hands, clenched into iron fists, trembled with brute force. “Silence,” he commanded, his voice vibrating through the walls. “I’ll deal with you later.”

The muffled voice behind the rough sack whimpered, weak and trembling with fear. “P-please…have mercy. It won’t happen again.”

I stared at the prisoner, my mind racing to make sense of the situation. The prisoner’s voice… it sounded so familiar. How could this be?

“Traitor!” Rohan’s roar reverberated through the chamber, each word dripping with fury. “You put us all at risk!”

Traitor. The word echoed in my head, a monstrous thing twisting my insides. But the voice… it couldn’t be. It sounded so much like…No. It can’t be him. 

I knew Rohan could be ruthless, a terrifying storm of shadows and fury. But Sylvenna had also spoken of his hidden depths, a capacity for compassion that surprised even his closest allies.

The muffled voice rasped again, “Please, I beg you,” sounding more desperate than ever. “I’m sorry.”

Rohan’s jaw clenched, a muscle ticking in his temple. I could practically smell the heat of his anger radiating off him. It simmered just beneath the surface, threatening to erupt and I feared he would do something impulsive.

“Rohan, please,” I intervened, my voice wavering slightly. “Let me speak with him.”

“This piece of shit would spill the whole damn plan to your aunt, risking the lives of everyone involved.” Rohan snapped, his stormy grey eyes flashing with irritation.

My stomach clenched, a cold dread slithering down my spine. No. This had to be a mistake.

I glanced at Sylvenna. Her posture was firm, her expression composed. In her eyes, there was a quiet acknowledgment of Rohan’s necessary ruthlessness.

The goblin, Grizpik, smirked, clearly enjoying the scene.

Thistle, however, remained impassive, his arms crossed over his chest.

Disbelief choked me. “That’s… that’s impossible,” I stammered, the words catching in my throat.

“Come on, princess. Do you really think I’d have any reason to lie to you?” Rohan retorted, his voice as sharp as steel. “After everything I’ve done for you? Please. Give me some credit.” A flicker of annoyance, quick as a dart, crossed his gray eyes, but it was quickly replaced by a crooked, humorless smile. “Believe me, I prefer the truth. It’s much less tiring.”

“But you’re wrong,” I insisted, my voice growing louder. “He can’t be… he wouldn’t do something like that.”

This has to be some kind of twisted joke. A cruel trick.

His brow furrowed, etching deep lines into his forehead. Frustration and confusion warred in his icy gray eyes. “What the hell are you talking about, Aerin?”

“Please, let me talk to him,” I pleaded again. “He deserves a chance to explain.”

Rohan’s eyes bore into mine, intense enough to set the whole world on fire. “Does he?” he asked, his voice rough like coarse sand. “Does he deserve your compassion after what he’s done?”

“Yes,” I responded, my chin jutting out in defiance.

A tense silence stretched between us, broken only by the ragged gasps escaping the traitor’s lips. Rohan’s jaw clenched and unclenched. I could practically see the war raging within him. The fury in his eyes hadn’t entirely dissipated, embers glowing beneath a thin layer of ash. He took a deep breath, his chest rising and falling with a controlled effort. The anger seemed to recede, replaced by a simmering frustration that clung to him like a mantle. Did I reach him through the storm, or was he simply choosing a different strategy?

“Whatever,” he grumbled, his jaw clenched so tightly I worried he might crack a tooth. “One shot, genius. Make it count.”

I gave him a firm nod, my eyes glued to the bound figure.

Rohan shifted his attention to the prisoner and let out a heavy sigh. “Talk. Now.” He commanded.

Silence. But not the empty kind. This silence thrummed with a tension so thick I could taste it.

I stepped forward, my gaze fixed on the prisoner. Every pair of eyes in that chamber seemed to burn into me, scrutinizing my every move, their gazes heavy with confusion. I ignored all of them. Each breath felt like swallowing shards of ice, my heart pounding against my chest like a wild animal trying to escape. “Tell me why you did this.” I said addressing the prisoner directly.

Silence.

Taking a shuddering breath, I extended my arm. My hand, trembling like a leaf caught in a hurricane, hovered inches from the prisoner’s head. The only sound that broke the suffocating silence was the ragged gasps escaping his lips. My ice-cold fingers brushed against the rough fabric of the sack, the coarse texture sending goosebumps erupting across my skin.

“Aerin,” Rohan barked, a single word laced with annoyance.

I ignored him.

Finally, with a slow, hesitant movement, I pulled the sack down.

The world tilted on its axis. My breath hitched in my throat, a strangled gasp escaping my lips.

It couldn’t be. It simply couldn’t be.

Not him. He’d been with us since the beginning, fought by our side, bled for me. We’d laughed together, shared secrets under the cloak of night. How could he?

But it was.

Green eyes, once bright and brimming with life, now bulged with fear and shame. Short, messy blonde hair framed his face, falling onto his forehead in a wild fringe. His once prominent, healthy cheekbones were now sunken and pale.

The prisoner was Gareth.

He looked at me, his eyes pleading for forgiveness, for understanding. “Aerin,” he rasped, his voice hoarse and broken. “Help me. I’m so sorry.”

The world around me seemed to dissolve into a swirling vortex of colors and sounds, leaving only his face, his voice, his desperate plea. Confusion and fear washed over me, leaving me dizzy and disoriented.

“Gareth,” I whispered.

Maybe, just maybe, there was an explanation. Maybe Gareth was coerced, threatened. 

Categories story

The crypt III

I stepped into the dimly lit chamber, my eyes widening as I surveyed the unexpected gathering.

What’s happening here? I had no idea there was a little rebellion going on. I only expected to find the healer here. Rohan really hid this well.

A sly smile spread across the goblin’s face, revealing a row of jagged, yellow teeth. His eyes, like two glinting coins, shone with an unsettling cunning.

And a goblin? Seriously? Since when did these petty and treacherous creatures join any noble cause? Ah, look at him with that sly smile. I’ve never been a fan of goblins, be they civilized or wild. They’re all the same. The wild ones are even worse, always ready to devour anything that moves.

Rohan stepped forward, positioning himself between me and the peculiar assembly.

And there goes our fearless leader, entangled in dangerous plots.

As I approached the small group, Rohan introduced me to the red-haired male fairy standing beside him—Thistle. He offered a warm smile, his eyes reflecting genuine concern. “Princess,” he greeted me with a respectful bow.

Sylvenna, the white-haired healer, extended a welcoming hand, her eyes shining with kindness.”It’s good to see you again, Princess,” she said, her voice soothing. I couldn’t help but blush at the title; it still felt foreign and uncomfortable, as if I didn’t quite fit into this world of royalty.

My gaze shifted to the fey bound to the chair, a grimy sack covering his head. A wave of pity washed over me.

Who is he, and why is he bound like this?

Sylvenna’s voice cut through my thoughts, drawing my attention back to the small group. She gestured towards the  hunched figure standing beside her. The goblin.

“High Lord, Princess, allow me to present Grizpik,” she said, gesturing towards the goblin with a nod of her head. “He is a goblin merchant.” She added.  “Goblins can travel freely between regions and continents, even across worlds, gathering valuable information to sell.”

Rohan dipped his head in a curt nod, his expression guarded yet polite. “Grizpik.”

Grizpik, bowed with a flourish, his eyes gleaming with shrewd intelligence. “Indeed, you’ve got it right. The one and only Grizpik, a humble trader from the Whispering Trees Forest. Pleasure to meet you both.” He cast an assessing gaze over Rohan, recognizing the strength within him.

“A strong one, you are. I like strong, though maybe a bit too serious for my taste.” His words dripped sarcasm. “And you, my pretty,” he continued, turning his attention to me. “Aerin, lovely name. Now, this is a rare sight. A half-elf Half Fey, our little Starborn.” He reached out to touch a strand of my hair, twirling it between his fingers. “Golden brown, like melted gold. Beautiful. If I had my way, I’d love to add a bit of this to my collection.”

What?

I shot him a sarcastic smile. “Sorry, my hair is not for sale. The only thing you’ll collect from me is a swift kick if you don’t step back.”

Rohan chuckled nervously, glancing between me and the goblin. “Well, we’re off to a great start,” he mumbled, trying to diffuse the tension.

The goblin cackled, rubbing his hands together. “Feisty, this one. I like it. Fae with fire in her veins. You’ve got fire in those pretty nostrils, Princess.”

A snort escaped my lips as the goblin spoke, and I crossed my arms tightly. I knew these types of civilized goblins all too well — always ambitious, always opportunistic. I’d encountered enough of them in Príbora to recognize the greed that glittered in their eyes, like Grizpik’s now. Payment? Oh, it could be anything they desired. Trinkets, jewels, nails even teeth or blood if they were feeling particularly gruesome. But their most prized possession, the one that truly ignited a disturbing hunger in their eyes, was hair. Not just a lock of hair, but a full head of it. The more luscious and abundant, the better.

Sylvenna’s hurried voice broke through the tense atmosphere. “I used an ancient magical amulet, a family relic,” she explained. “I called Grizpik. If there’s a way to break Absinthya’s magical crystal, he would know.”

Hope flickered in Rohan’s eyes, and I couldn’t help but feel a surge of anticipation.

Grizpik examined the symbols painted on my arms, his sharp eyes narrowing.  “Impressive drawings you’ve got there, Princess,” he remarked, the way he emphasized ‘Princess’ making my skin crawl. He traced a gnarled finger along the markings. “But be wary, Princess Starborn. These symbols, they’re powerful. They amplify the spell. And,” he added, a hint of menace in his tone, “this kind of magic comes at a cost.”

My heart quickened, and I exchanged a worried glance with Rohan. “What do you mean?” he demanded, irritation bleeding into his voice.

Grizpik’s grin widened, showing his sharp teeth. “To unleash the full power of the crystal, someone’s gotta pay the price. A life for a life. And the magic in these symbols,” he gestured at my arms, “it’s potent. Your little Starborn here would lose her life for sure.”

So that’s why the witch drew those symbols on my arms. To increase and use the crystal’s power to its fullest at the cost of my own life.

Dread crawled up my spine, and Rohan’s eyes narrowed with fury. “Tell us what needs to be done, goblin. Now!”

Grizpik cackled, rubbing his hands together. “Ah, it’s not that simple, you see. There’s a price. And your lovely Starborn here knows it well.” He gestured at me, his gaze fixated on my hair. “Payment first, then knowledge.”

I could feel the tension rising within me, a mixture of fear and frustration. “You want my hair? You won’t get a single strand, you wretched creature! Tell us what you know, or I swear I’ll—”

In the midst of our heated exchange with Grizpik, an unexpected noise echoed from the fey captive in the chair. A muffled plea reached our ears, disrupting the negotiations.”Rohan, please! Have mercy! Forgive me.”

My hand instinctively flew to my chest, not just from the startling sound but … I knew that voice. It couldn’t be… could it?