'For My Family who have never stopped believing in me,.'
The coming of the New Year was said to have brought with it many vast changes. For Alandra Valentine many of these changes took place when she finally decided on moving to that quiet country retreat she had always dreamed of.
To the outsider Haven's gate may have seemed rather quaint and picturesque, like something straight out of a fairytale, but it had a charm that was all its own. Time seemed to stand still: people could wander through the lush greenwoods, wade through the gentle streams or stop to smell the many rare and radiant flowers without the constant worry of the merciless hands of the clock ticking away against them in a race that they could never hope to win.
It was a complete opposite to the cold hard suburbia of Angala City, here people actually cared about each other, they took the time out to get to know one another; compassion flowed through its cobbled streets. The younger generation helped the older, and in turn the older generation helped to mould the younger into young men and women that their small village could truly be proud of.
Alandra had first heard of Haven's gate when one of her childhood friends Rhinona Summers had decided to get back in touch with her. Alandra was more than a little surprised, more so because she barely remembered Rhinona, it all seemed like such a long time ago, and she had been a different person back then, so insecure, and so unsure of herself.
She could only vaguely recall what Rhinona had looked like, only that she had been one of her closest friends back then when it had felt as though the world had abandoned her.
Rhinona had always been so scared of everything, and everyone around her, she was always walking around with her hair in her face. Always staring at the floor, never daring to show her face, too afraid to look up at the world, always wanting to be accepted, but never being given a chance , always trying to fit in but never being able to.
She and Alandra had attended the same school, and as Alandra was going through the same kind of thing they had become quite close? Like Alandra, Rhinona had special abilities, but unlike Alandra she was unwilling, and unable to keep them hidden. So she and her family finally decided to move away to a place that would be more willing to accept their unique gifts.
Yet even though her memories of her friend were like a frosted up pane of glass, there had been something in the way Rhinona had described Haven's gate that had reached out to her, and had made the small village seem almost magical, and she knew that no matter what, she had to move there.
In her mind's eye she could picture it all so vividly even though she had never in her life set foot there, and the clearer that picture became the more intent she became on going. It wasn't that she didn't like Angala City or 'The city on the edge of the sea' as it was more commonly known. It was more that the city didn't seem to like her. Ever since her parents had moved there in the vain attempt of starting their relationship afresh it had seemed like an ideal place to live, and it had been?for them?
For Alandra herself it had been anything but easy, she had been plagued with nothing but bad luck since the day she had set foot there. Misery like an uninvited guest kept visiting her door. It had begun when her parents had gone their separate ways, their ideals at salvaging their marriage little more than an ideal, the strain of her fathers womanizing too much for the relationship to survive.
She had moved in with her mother, her father had simply disappeared, to where she didn't know, and she would probably never find out. Sometimes in her dreams she could remember sitting on his knee as a little girl, her head resting against his chest, his strong arms wrapped protectively around her, listening to the soothing sound of his heartbeat, and thinking that he was the most wonderful person in the world.
It was funny how fast those childish fancies had shattered soon after the divorce when she realized that he wasn't coming back, and it wasn't because he couldn't, Alandra's mother had never stood in the way of him seeing Alandra. It was more because he didn't want to. The realization of that had nearly destroyed her. She had just turned sixteen at the time, and on top of all the problems she was already going through, and all the changes that were happening to her body as it transformed from a child's into a woman's?to have her whole world turned upside down like that was an experience that she wouldn't have wished on anyone.
She had been lucky that she still had her mother?to love and to support her, to dry her tears, and to hold her in those dark times when she felt the most alone. The pain of her father's loss was an open wound that refused to heal. The years passed but the pain lingered on along with the nightmares that would rise up from the darkness of her mind?always the same one?her father being torn away from her by an invisible force that she couldn't see or couldn't fight.
In time the pain grew less, and the nightmares stopped, and as the years passed by the scar slowly healed, but had never completely vanished, and she wondered if it ever would. But she had to face up to the truth. She couldn't put her life on hold any longer, or spend eternity hoping that her father would come back into her life, that was nothing more than a wistful fantasy. The harsh reality was that he had more than likely moved on with his life by now, and filed her away forever, an unwanted memory of an unwanted past, that was better off left in the dark where he felt it belonged.
What was it with men and commitment anyway? Alandra thought.
She had never been able to answer the eternal question of why the two things were so apparently incompatible with each other. So far every man she had ever cared about had proved this theory without a shadow of a doubt. Her father being the first, and then much later on her fiancé' Tom when he had left her for another woman, and in the wake of the disaster, as the dust settled on the broken ruins of their relationship she had decided to move on with her life, leaving the city and its painful memories far behind her.
But there wasn't a day that went by that she didn't dream of what might have been, when her mind wasn't occupied by a million what ifs, and when she didn't wonder what life might have been like if she and Tom had stayed together.
She had never fully understood the reasons that he had left her for someone else; she had heard his excuses but hadn't acknowledged them. The hurt had been too much, and she had been in far too much pain.
So in the end she had wound up blaming herself for their relationship falling apart, even though her mother had insisted that she had been completely blameless. Perhaps she had loved Tom too much, perhaps that had been her downfall to blindly build her world around a man who could never truly accept her for the person that she was.
She knew in her heart that she could never in her life be what he wanted her to be 'just a normal girl' she was different you see. She was special; she could do things that most people could only dream of doing. The first hint of this had been on her first birthday when she had disappeared in front of the guests at her party, her parents had of course been frantic with worry, and had scoured the neighborhood in search of her, they had almost given up hope, when she had materialized later on in her bedroom in front of them both.
For weeks after her disappearing act had been the number one topic of conversation with people endlessly trying to figure out how she did it: her parents had simply shrugged it off by suggesting that she must have distracted everyone somehow.
What everyone else didn't know though was that this wasn't the first time that something like this had happened. Throughout most of Alandra's childhood strange events had taken place, objects appearing then disappearing. Plates, and cutlery flying through the air as though propelled by an invisible force, and of course Alandra mysteriously appearing and disappearing throughout different parts of her home, and throughout different parts of the city.
Her parents had so far managed to cover up as many of these incidents as possible, mostly out of fear of what might happen to their truly unique daughter if people were to find out the truth about her. So they had tried to make Alandra appear as normal as possible, but they were fighting a losing battle, because if truth were known Alandra had never really fitted in to what was considered 'The norm'.
For most of her young life she had felt like an outsider. Forever separated from society by an invisible wall that she could never seem to break through.
In school she had been excluded by the other girls who saw her as some kind of threat because of her pretty face and kind nature, but then it had been an all girl's school and in such places jealousy usually ran rife, and her school was no exception to that unspoken rule.
In many ways girls could be exceptionally crueler than boys, and no matter what she did she couldn't win. Her writing, her singing?anything that brought some small amount of joy to her small world was torn apart and ridiculed by her fellow peers. Every day they seemed to find something new to taunt her about. Her dreams, her personal life, the fact that her father had left, all went through their court of proverbial judgment.
The sheer mockery of it all was that none of them had even bothered to take the time out to get to know her; She had been persecuted without a trial simply because she was different, because she was a little quieter and a little shyer than most girls her age, and because her main interests didn't consist of boys and who snogged who the night before.
Because of this she had been branded as strange, and would always be viewed as someone to be constantly mocked and humiliated and put to shame at all costs. Her move to Haven's gate had been the start of a brand new life for her. A magic based community, Haven's gate was the one place in the world where Alandra felt as if she truly belonged.
It was good to finally be able to talk to people who like her had unusual magical talents, and who she could speak to, without a fear of judgment. Cut off from the rest of the world Haven's gate was run by a small group of warlocks, and witches, known only as the guardians of the light'?the elected council of the village, they made most of the decisions concerning the village, and its people.
Alandra hadn't been aware of it at the time, but from the day she moved there, the elder of the guardians Silvius Alarah had been watching her. Until one day she had pulled Alandra aside and asked her if she would be willing to join the ranks of the guardians?she said that she had become increasingly aware of Alandra's developing magic skills which greatly excelled many of the villagers who had lived there for years.
"You have been given a wonderful gift Alandra," Silvius had said,
"And it will take time but with patience, and training the lines of what is possible?and what is not possible will eventually blur and you will literally be able to do anything that can be imagined?and much?much more."
With her sliver streaked hair, and twinkling grey eyes, Silvius reminded Alandra of her grandmother Dariena, her grandmother had died when she was just a little girl, but what memories she had of her were happy ones. She could remember spending long weekends in her grandmother's small apartment on the Granger Estate, drinking cold smoothies, or just talking about school.
She had shared a very special bond with her grandmother, and in some ways the bond they shared was far stronger than the bond she shared with her mother. Her grandma was always there for her, and not once did she let her down, whenever she felt as if she couldn't cope with life's problems. Whether it was the gap her father had left in her life the day he had walked out the door, or just problems with the girls at school, her grandma was always available with a kind or comforting word or two.
Sometimes she felt as though her grandmother was still watching over her, still making sure she was allright. In many ways Silvius was a lot like her, but whereas her grandmother had been very open, and had kept very little hidden from her only granddaughter, Silvius was the opposite, and was very dark, and secretive, and spoke very little of the past, saying that it must be old age creeping in because she could remember very little about it anyway.
The only thing she would reveal was that Amy her daughter who she had introduced Alandra to on her first day in the village, was also a guardian, and in time she and Amy became firm friends. Alandra couldn't believe how different her life was from the one she had left behind in Angala City.
The timid and frightened girl she had once been was gone. She had changed so much that if any of her former school colleagues had crossed her path, they would have hardly recognized the confident young woman that she had become.
Of course she missed her mum terribly but they still wrote to each other on a fairly regular basis, and her mum was happy that she had finally found a place to call her own. The guardians were like an extended family to her now: when she had lived in the city Alandra had heard only whispers and rumors concerning the guardians of the light but mostly they were considered mythical beings, because as far as the world outside Haven's gate was concerned magic was only something that existed in storybooks.
Now here she was soon to become a part of that myth?as with all stories though there was a darker side to the myth. Alandra had been told about it just a few months after she had settled in to Haven's gate. It had supposedly happened a long time ago, before Alandra had even been born, and it centered around a group of villagers who having tired of the village's strict rule not to delve into the darker more sinister side of magic had left to form a faction of their own dedicated solely to the black arts.
That had been the beginning of the end for them, for as their power increased their humanity decreased, that was the ultimate price they had to pay for their journey into pure darkness, and it only got worse as they wandered further into the dark becoming less and less human, and more like the nightmare creatures that we fear will leap out of the darkest corners of our minds to snatch us away.
Alandra had always had a subconscious fear that one day she might have to face the nightmare that their lost sisters and brothers had become. The only protection they had at present was a binding ceremony performed once at the dawn of every New Year, it was supposed to shield their villagers and the rest of the world from the threat of their lost brethren.
Many thought the ceremony was a waste of time, for if there was a rumored lost faction then that's all it was?a rumor. The old ways of thinking were quickly dying out. The younger generation of the village saw the ceremony as nothing more than a ridiculous sham done more out of habit than out of a need for protection, some had even tried to get it abolished.
Yet still at the end of every year as the clock in the village square counted down to midnight, the ceremony was performed without fail in the middle of Hob's woods?old habits sometimes die hard?
So far every ceremony Alandra had attended had gone ahead without anything untoward happening, so even she was beginning to believe the doubters maybe just a little, but tonight she didn't know why but she had this horribly unsettling feeling. A small voice of doubt that had crept into the back of her mind, continually nagging at her that at tonight's ceremony something would go terribly wrong?and as the ceremony drew nearer and nearer, that little voice had started to get louder and louder
The sounds of the New Year's celebrations echoed throughout the eerie desolation of Hob's woods to where Alandra and the rest of the guardians stood huddled together in a group, shielding themselves from the cold night air.
Pulling her dark cloak tighter around herself to better block out the cold, Alandra took in the scene around her. With at least half an hour to kill before midnight many of the other Guardians had decided to indulge in a little casual conversation.
Many reminisced on what they had been doing that year, the loves they had gained or lost, and the people who had drifted in and out of their lives like ghosts. Alandra kept herself to herself on this subject, love for her was an emotion that she felt like a complete stranger to. She didn't mean to be so cynical, but she couldn't help it.
Her personal life so far consisted of a minefield of broken relationships and shattered dreams, love hadn't even come into the equation or if it had then it had let her down in the worst possible way by promising the world, but never coming across with it.
Her past experiences with her ex fiancé' Tom had finally convinced her in the end that there were no real princes to be found, and that the world consisted mainly of frogs. Disillusionment had taken the place of hope, and her heart was too weak to try again, there were after all only so many falls a person could take before they couldn't get up again.
So for now she decided to concentrate solely on her duties as a guardian, locking her heart away, and putting her dreams on the shelf?for the time being. Glancing absently at her digital wristwatch Alandra noticed that there were only ten more minutes to go before the ceremony that would keep their world safe for a little while longer could begin.
Standing against a backdrop of moonlight, its silver glare reflected in her golden hair Alandra watched mesmerized as the rest of the group began to slowly gather around one of the older oak trees in the forest. Alandra looked around at the other guardians, her gaze shifting from Silvius the elder guardian, who had her hands neatly folded as if in prayer, her silver streaked hair partly hidden under the black hood of her cloak.
Her grey eyes clouded over in deep concentration, then back over to the remaining twelve guardians who all stood silently waiting for her friend Rhinona to begin. Alandra had to admit that even she was more than a little surprised that her friend Rhinona had been asked by Silvius to read out the incantation for tonight's sacred ceremony, usually Rhinona hated reading out anything in public, a hermit by nature?this was a complete turnaround for her.
Perhaps that had been the reason Silvius had given her the task?.in the hope that it might instill some confidence in her that she had so far been lacking, make her feel more of a part of everything. But from the look on the dark haired girls delicately sculpted features she looked anything but confident. Her voice faltering, her nerves raw, Rhinona bit back her anxiety as she began to read from the age worn scroll in front of her, as the clock in the village square began its steady countdown to midnight, and the New year.
"We the daughters of the Earth? ask of Gaia the mother of us all, to grant us the strength to unite our powers."
Her voice growing steadily more confident Rhinona was soon joined by the rest of the guardians as one by one they continued on together
"To form a seal to protect us from harm, to keep out the evil which may arise with the dawn, to hold back the terror from days of old, to safeguard the fate of us all, to protect us and to bless us in your name."
Hands clasped together, eyes closed silently in prayer, their voices shooting up to pierce the sky like a burning blade. Merging, and molding into one powerful force. Tiny pinpoints of light emanating from their now outstretched fingertips, fusing forming into a giant ball of color and light which slowly spread itself across the sky. Then just as quickly as it had appeared the light dispersed into the nothingness from whence it came.
Minutes passed, minutes which seemed like hours, everyone stood frozen still like a photograph taken in time. Glancing nervously at one another, no one dared breathe?no one dared move?everyone was listening to the clock in the village square?their hearts in their mouths?Alandra breathed a small sigh of relief?and Rhinona looked up at her and smiled?.everything had gone as planned?the protection ceremony had worked.
The light that had formed in the sky had faded, and they could go and start the after ceremony celebrations, something they did every year, that would most certainly involve plenty of drinking, plenty of dancing, and just generally giving thanks to life, and nature, they were all about to head back to the Fiery phoenix, their local tavern to kick off the party that would last till sunrise ?.when something that no one could have expected happened. From behind them another light started to grow, started to spread as the clock in the village square finally struck twelve, becoming brighter and brighter until it hurt Alandra's eyes too much to look at it. Blanketing the sky in white, it spread itself outwards, becoming less and less like a light and more like something else?but what?
Her heart in her mouth Alandra tried to push down the fear that was rising up inside her like a tidal wave, as she tried to focus on the thing that was forming in the sky, her mind jolting back to reality in an instant as she realized what she was looking at. A gateway of some kind was forming, gradually emerging from the light becoming more and more solid with each passing second, with each beat of her heart, but more than that, there was something coming out of it?and it was headed right for them?
No one could believe what was happening...but their eyes betrayed the truth, and no matter how hard they tried to hide from that truth the anomaly in the sky refused to go away. Instead it seemed to mock them with its refusal to simply disappear like a bad dream does with the dawn.
Cocktail glasses fell from hands, beer bottles slid from limp fingertips, cigarettes hung from mouths slack with shock. The sound of people's cries shattered the deathly silence, rising up to the heavens like a hymn of the damned. People stared wide-eyed around them in disbelief,
Alandra glanced over and noticed that some of the guardians were holding hands, all of the color had drained from Rhinona's face, and her soft features were frozen in a mask of fear. She looked like a rabbit stuck in the glare of a car's headlights. A thousand and one questions began to form in her mind?what had happened? How had it happened? Why had it happened?
W she and other guardians somehow responsible for the twisted reality that they were now stuck in the middle of and what would be the consequences of it all for everyone? She tried to move? to run?to get away, but she couldn't, her legs had turned to jelly, and refused to cooperate, all she could do was stare up at the sky in shock like everyone else.
Looking back though no one could have predicted that something like this might happen, they had all been blissfully ignorant to the possibility, snug in their own little worlds, refusing to believe that anything could get past their inner circle, and that they could keep any threat away from their small village.
Like the Titanic they had thought that something like this was impossible, how naïve they had all been. o make matters worse the spectacle in the sky seemed to be spreading further, even though there was no more sky for it to spread across. The moon and the stars were hidden behind it?so it was now the only source of light in the dark of the forest, but if she concentrated hard enough then Alandra could just about make out what was coming out of it.
Through the mist which rose like a predator, so thick now that Alandra feared that she would choke on it. She could vaguely make out the shadowy silhouettes of what appeared to be an army, a battalion of massive proportion. Though it was still to far away for her to make them out she was very much doubtful that they resembled anything remotely human.
Her fears confirmed as they strode past the last row of bushes and stood before them all. No words came to Alandra's mind that would best be suited to describe them?there were no words, all reasoning went out the window.
Save for one thought that ran over, and over in her mind?surely she must be dreaming for no such creatures could possibly exist?even in the darkest parts of the human mind. Bound in heavy plated armor encrusted with ruby stones which glittered in the dim light; their eyes as black as sackcloth, huge bat like wings stretched out behind them, casting dark shadows across the land.
Some of them appeared reptilian in nature, some bore more animalistic features. Some of them bore no resemblance to anything that anyone had ever encountered before?save for their nightmares. From the general shape of them, she assumed that they could have at one time been human, and they could certainly walk like a human?even if they had no right to do so.
Her heart racing?Alandra held her breath and waited for the inevitable end to come, as the creatures made their way towards them as swift as the wind that was whipping her hair behind her.
"Any minute now I'll wake up," she told herself, but deep down she knew that what she was seeing was real, and that the monsters coming for her weren't like the monsters in her dreams or the monsters of her past. This time there was no escape, no tunnel leading back to the real world. She was stuck in the looking glass forever with no way back home.
Rhinona's nails were digging into the back of her ceremonial gown?and Alandra fought the urge to cry out, as one by one she and the other guardians slowly backed away into the village square?the things closing in on them with an unnatural persistency.
She could sense them towering above them all like huge hideous phantoms making Alandra feel extremely vulnerable as they got closer and closer still. She could almost feel the stench of their putrid breath on her face?the hugely heavy swords they held reflecting the fear on the faces of the people around them.
Then suddenly they stopped? without reason and without warning? someone or something was making its way through them. The battalion separated into two groups to make it easier for whatever it was that was coming through. Alandra stared, and stared?not believing what was coming towards them. It was a girl....a human girl, perhaps a few years older than Alandra herself.
She was also dressed in armor but unlike the others she gave off the unmistakable presence of a leader. Statuesque like an Amazon she radiated raw sexual energy and supreme confidence, intensely beautiful she shone like a goddess.
The dark cloak she wore, and her even darker hair, a stark contrast to the deathly paleness of her skin, but in her eyes?in her startlingly blue eyes there was no trace of emotion whatsoever. It was almost like looking into the eyes of death, and finding the emptiness of death staring back. She should have been afraid, she should have had the sense to run?but she couldn't have run even if she had wanted to. The hypnotic power emanating from this mysterious woman prevented her from doing so. Lost inside those lightless eyes all she wanted to do was drown.
Rhinona literally had to drag her away or she would have stayed where she stood until death came to claim her. Yet even as she was being dragged away by an impatient Rhinona, her eyes remained locked on the woman now standing just mere inches from her so close now that she could almost reach out and touch her.
It was almost as though she was under the effects of a spell, she just couldn't stop staring, and no matter how hard she tried she just couldn't seem to break out of it.
"C'mon," yelled Rhinona, bringing Alandra momentarily back to her senses
"We've got to get out of here?move damn it!"
Heading in the general direction of Alandra's small thatch cottage Rhinona dragged Alandra along behind her; it was the only way she could think of to get her best friend the hell out of there before she got them both killed.
Fuelled by adrenalin and fear she ran from the village square, looking hesitantly back over her shoulder just in time to see the dark haired warrior draw two elaborately detailed swords from behind her that shimmered softly, and were wrapped in a strange light. Her dark cloak billowing out around her revealing a pair of jet black wings that had u till now remained hidden from sight,
er blue eyes suddenly changing color, darkening dramatically mirroring her mood, until they were now as black as her hair, and she smiled but there was no warmth to the smile?it was as cold and unfeeling as the blades she held. Glinting menacingly, the strange light around them intensified, and then changed color.
Turning from a light green to a fiery red until both blades were wreathed in flames, as she dragged them through the dirt and debris of the party before, leaving huge scorch marks in the earth as she made her way towards what was left of the crowd. Her dark eyes shining, her swords weaving an almost mystical pattern in the air as one by one she cut them down.
The sound of their friends screams ringing in the girl's ears accompanied by the sound of manic laughter which echoed out into the turbulent night. Alandra and Rhinona raced on through the rest of the village, and not once did they dare to look back?
The sound of the storm rattled the windows of Alandra's tiny cottage, they had both got caught in it running from the village square, and were both thoroughly soaked to the skin. For a long time neither one of them spoke?what could they say?
What could possibly justify everything that they had just witnessed?
The horror of it all was reflected in their eyes and in the stifling silence that lingered in the room making them both feel equally uncomfortable by its presence. They sat on the two small but cozy crème armchairs that were placed on either side of Alandra's small living room.
The large open fire in the centre cracked and popped. The flickering flames casting dark shadows all around them, amplifying their fears, making them see things that were not really there. A sudden flash of lightning lit up the small room, immersing the two young girls momentarily. Rhinona flinched her small figure rigid, as it was followed by the loud rumble of thunder, she then slumped back into her chair, and resigned herself once more to the shadows.
Finally Alandra broke the terrible silence
"WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED BACK THERE?" she screamed at the darkness and the darkness like the guilt washed over her.
Somewhere at the back of her mind she could still hear the screams of the people they had left behind to die, and she feared that from now on her every waking thought would forever be filled by that sound. Like phantoms they would rise from the abyss of her subconscious, taunting her because she hadn't raised a hand to help them.
She could have done something, she was certainly powerful enough?her magical abilities grew stronger each day, and to what extent she could use those powers no one, not even Alandra herself knew for sure?but when she had been staring into that demon woman's eyes her mind had gone completely blank, and she had felt very much like an insect stuck in amber.
Frozen in the moment, none of it had seemed real, it had felt as though it was all happening to someone else, and that she was just a spectator watching it all from outside of her body, unable to act, able only to react, to watch the nightmare unfold out before her like the plot of some sinister horror novel.
She couldn't face the fact that she had survived when so many of her friends had died. In her mind she could still picture their faces, their last earthly moments as the warrior woman carved a path of death through them. Rubbing her eyes Alandra tried to lock those images, and the pain that came with them away in the furthest corner of her mind, she had to think of what to do next?half of her friends were more than likely dead by now, and there was still an army rampaging through their once safe village, she had to get Rhinona to safety?but where could she take her?
As if she had heard the inner conflict going on inside of her, Rhinona turned in her chair to face her, her arms wrapped tightly around herself, her blue green eyes locked with Alandra's emerald green ones, and in her mind Alandra heard Rhinona's soft voice gently questioning her.
"Is everyone dead?" she asked.
Rising from her own chair Alandra walked over the tiny stretch of rust colored carpet that separated her from Rhinona kneeling down in front of her she reached out to grasp Rhinona's hand
"I don't know," she said out loud.
"It's my fault," Rhinona whispered softly "I must have read the scroll out wrong."
Alandra sighed deeply and lifted Rhinona's face up so she could look into her eyes that were now shining brightly with fresh tears.
"Don't be silly;" she said with a sad smile, "It couldn't have possibly been your fault." Leaning over she wrapped her arms around the sobbing young girl, trying her best to comfort her.
"Whatever happened wasn't anyone's fault, you shouldn't blame yourself Rhinona, the best thing we can do now is try to find out the real reason for what happened."
Staring at the gold patterned walls around her Rhinona rubbed her hands nervously together.
"I'm scared," she said,
"What are we going to do when that woman gets here with her army?are we going to die as well?"
"No Rhinona," Alandra reassured her, "We aren't going to die?I promise you."
"But I'm not as powerful as you are?I'll get us both killed?it's better for you if you just leave me here."
Lowering her head in defeat Rhinona stared at the floor
"I'm always getting in the way."
"That's not true, and you know it, whoever told you that couldn't be more wrong?You're my best friend Rhinona and I'm not going to leave you."
Rhinona looked back up at her, and Alandra smiled.
"I'll just have to have enough power for the both of us?now you just wait here while I gather some food and clothes together."
"Why where are we going?" asked Rhinona, "That army will soon be crawling all over the village."
"We won't be here."
"We won't?" Rhinona looked up at her confused.
"Why where are we going?"
Alandra looked over at her, struggling to come up with an answer?where could they go? Was there anywhere safe enough? Then it came to her?she could visit her mum. Finally she turned around to look at Rhinona, her green eyes sparkling.
"I'm not sure?let's not worry about it for now, and just focus on getting out of the village," she said, as she packed the last of the supplies she'd gathered and place d them into her navy blue rucksack that was still sitting where she'd left it weeks before at the foot of the chair that she'd just been sitting in.
"We'll take a shortcut through the graveyard, it'll be quicker that way," said Alandra.
"Okay, then I guess we better get going," said Rhinona, in a voice that was barely a whisper.
Alandra looked deeply into Rhinona's eyes, and saw the fear rising to the surface again. Placing a comforting hand on her friend's shoulder, she tried to think of the right words to chase that fear away.
For a few minutes Rhinona just stood there, caught in Alandra's expressive green eyes, and in her mind she heard Alandra's soft voice.
"We'll get out of this Rhinona, I promise,"?and she felt safe.
"Now come on, let's get the hell out of here," said Alandra out loud.
Pulling the hoods to their robes over their heads both women opened the door, and stepped out into the cold New Year's day air, the sound of their heartbeats seemingly as loud as the thunder rumbling overhead, as they braced themselves for whatever dangers that might be lying ahead.
The small village bore a terrifying resemblance to a war torn battle field. Bodies lay scattered about, frozen in their final moments. Their features contorted into hideous masks of pain. Blood oozed through the cracks in the pavement, silently, sluggishly, it spread across the cold concrete like a terrible living presence.
The stillness that lingered in the air was almost tangible, and there stood Lilith in the middle of it. Her long dark hair cascading down her back like a silken waterfall; her dark wings spread out behind her she looked like an angel of death, a vision both beautiful and deadly, a soft smile painted on her lips as she scanned the carnage around her.
The adrenaline still rushing through her body long after the kill, she stared down at her spirit blades in quiet fascination. Watching as the flames that had engulfed them during the battle flickered, and then finally faded away into the nothingness.. Without a thought she wiped the blood off them with the edge of her cloak, her smile broadening into a savage grin at the expressions of shock, and then disgust that greeted her from the faces of the only two guardians that were left.
A few of the others had managed to get away in the midst of the chaos before along with a handful of villagers, but time was on her side, and she had all the time in the world to find them.With an oppressive silence Lilith looked at the faces of the two survivors in turn. Her dark eyes shining brightly with anticipation before finally flickering back to sky blue. The first was an old woman, her face alabaster white, her grey hair streaked with silver, her form frail, outwardly no real threat?but inwardly she could feel the incredible power emanating from the old woman before she was more than a few feet away from her.
The sudden rush of power was so intense that it made her ache as she focused on it. She closed her eyes and concentrated as she looked into the old woman's mind, flicking through her thoughts as if she were flicking through the pages of a book, the fingers of her sub consciousness trembling at the invigorating prospect of what would be written on the next page.
Somewhere at the back of this old woman's mind she could sense fear, and the feeling was as intoxicating to her as a fine wine. Opening her eyes she half smiled as she looked down at the old woman who was staring back at her, refusing to allow the fear there to show.
Silvius's eyes then fell back to the young girl that she was cradling in her arms. Lilith stared down at her, and was taken aback a little, she looked remarkably young for a guardian?but she was probably about seventeen, maybe eighteen...with her golden hair flowing out over the old woman's arms, her eyes closed, she looked like sleeping beauty; her ragged breathing the only sign that she was still alive.
Opening her eyes she managed a weak smile that quickly turned into a grimace of pain, reaching up she gently touched the older woman's face.
"Mother am I going to die?" she asked
"No you're not going to die," said Silvius, her grey eyes burning into Lilith's now blue ones. "Not while I'm here to protect you."
Lilith could barely contain the laughter building up inside of her, as she stared at the old woman in front of her, her eyes mirroring her utter disbelief?did this old crone honestly think that she was any real threat to her?
"And just what are you going to do old lady?" she asked as she pointed the steely tips of her spirit blades in the old woman's face. Every muscle in her body twitching?just aching for the old girl to give her an excuse to attack. The old woman stared at the weapons hovering just inches away from her face, but her resolve remained intact, and she refused to back down.
"I may not be able to save myself," she said swatting the swords away from her
"But at least I can save my daughter."
"And just how do you plan on doing that?" grated Lilith a bemused smile edging its way across her lips?just who the hell did this old woman think she was anyway?..
Unfazed by the menacing tone behind the question, Silvius ignored her, and instead lowered her gaze back down to the young girl now lying on the floor, her eyes closed again. Placing both of her hands on the young girl's body she glanced back up at Lilith momentarily, her grey eyes sparkling?.she was up to something?thought Lilith...but what?...
Smiling softly Silvius lowered her gaze back down to her daughter, and Lilith noticed her mouthing the words goodbye, lowering her swords Lilith watched the two of them with a silent curiosity?something was happening..
From beneath the old woman's fingertips came a strange glow which spread quickly until both of her hands were fully encompassed by it.
Leaning down she planted a kiss on the young girl's forehead. Lilith stared down at her amazed as in that same instant the light beneath the old woman's hands started to grow, started to spread ?what the hell was happening here?...but before Lilith had a chance to answer that question, before she even had a chance to think, the light shot skywards, and the young girl vanished before Lilith's eyes.
Lilith stared down at the empty space where the young woman had been lying, not believing what her eyes were telling her.
"Where did she go?" she demanded.
The old woman smiled at her in quiet triumph, infuriated Lilith took her by the shoulders, and roughly shook her.
"Where did she go?" she repeated, "Tell me damn you."
She could feel the rage burning behind her eyelids, starting to take hold again. She clenched her teeth hard, her blue eyes darkening again.
"She's safe now, and that's all that matters."
She had gone too far?How dare you?thought Lilith?as she charged at the old woman, her spirit blades combusting into twin blades of fire.
In a last desperate act Silvius reached inside of herself, and pushed Lilith out of the way, sending her tumbling backwards. She landed in an undignified heap a few feet away. Her eyes Blazing Lilith got to her feet.
"And who's going to save you?"
Closing her eyes, Silvius blocked out the nightmare rushing towards her, and pictured her daughter's face one last time.
The mental scream echoed through the corridors of her mind. Holding her head in her hands, Alandra stopped in the middle of the cemetery?it was Silvius the elder guardian?something was happening to her?something terrifying?then suddenly the screaming stopped, and then everything went black, and the world fell away from her.
She could feel the older woman sinking into the dark oblivion of unconsciousness, could feel herself falling forward onto the grass, but could do nothing to stop herself, She was only dimly aware of Rhinona's worried face hovering over her?
"Alandra are you okay?"
Through a hazy cloud of pain she could hear the panic in Rhinona's voice as she repeated the question over and over again...she could feel her shaking her awake, her panic rising as the shaking intensified?then slowly ?very slowly she opened her eyes, her head still ached terribly but things were starting to clear up, and Rhinona's face shimmered into view.
"How, what happened?" she asked sitting up.
"I don't know, you just suddenly stopped in the middle of the cemetery?you had your head in your hands?you looked like you were in pain?I was about to ask you what was wrong when you collapsed onto the grass."
"The last thing I remember, I was thinking about Silvius?and hoping that she was okay?then suddenly?there was this screaming in my head?and?oh god I remember now, I could see through her eyes, I could feel everything that she was feeling. Rhinona she was in pain, terrible pain, someone was hurting her?I can still hear her screams in my mind.
"Did you see who was hurting her?"
"No she lost consciousness before I could get a proper look."
Her brow furrowed in confusion, Rhinona fiercely brushed away the tears from her eyes, not wanting to believe her.
"Is she okay? Is she still alive?" she asked placing the other hand on Alandra's shoulder.
"I'm not sure?I hope so"
What if Silvius wasn't okay? Rhinona wondered?What if she had died. What if they were the last guardians left? What would happen then? Rhinona shuddered inwardly at the thought.
Sensing the growing turmoil within her, Alandra answered her in her mind.
"No," She said "We're not the only ones someone else got away."
Looking off into the distance she lost herself in her thoughts momentarily, half wondering who it could be.
Finally she looked back over at Rhinona, and gave her a reassuring smile
"Amy, her daughter Amy" she said out loud, "she's hurt?but she's still alive?c'mon, help me look for her, she's somewhere around here."
Closing her eyes she reached out to grab Rhinona's hands, and together they focused on Amy, searching the whole of the cemetery with their minds for any trace of where she might be hiding. Minutes passed, minutes that seemed like hours as they silently stood there, and then Alandra opened her eyes.
"I've found her?she's at the other end of the cemetery?she's behind one of the statues?follow me?and I'll show you."
Padding silently down the overgrown grassy path, Alandra led Rhinona by the hand, past a row of decaying statues that seemed to follow them with their eyes, through the wild flowers that only blossomed here in the early January air, never taking their eyes off the decaying gates at the bottom of the path, they were about a foot away from the gates when Rhinona heard a groan to the left of her.
Turning to the sound she saw a pair of legs jutting out from behind one of the larger statues, and grabbed the back of Alandra's cloak, indicating to the statue as she did. Alandra followed Rhinona over to the imposing stone figure, stooping down she took a moment to examine just how badly Amy was hurt, her cloak stained with blood, her eyes closed, she lay there as still and silent as the stone statue above her, and Alandra feared the worst.
Stooping sown she gently shook the young girl's shoulders, Amy groaned, and then opened her eyes?Looking up at Alandra, her brown eyes clouded over with confusion, and she sat up quickly, then immediately wished she had remained where she was as bolts of fresh pain shot through her already fragile feeling body.
"How did I get here?"
Alandra looked puzzled and simply shrugged her shoulders
"I assume your mother teleported you here," she said lowering her eyes to the ground as she thought once again of what had happened to her mother, and the memory made her shudder involuntarily.
Looking into Alandra's green eyes, Amy held her breath as she asked the next question.
"Have you seen my mother? Did she teleport here as well?"
Alandra was about to answer Amy's question when a startled cry rang out behind her, standing up slowly, she walked back around the statue, and was mortified by what she saw.
Her face frozen in fear, hardly daring to move, hardly daring to breathe, Rhinona stood there silent as a mouse, a sword to her throat; behind her stood a tall dark haired woman holding the sword in place, her blue eyes transforming, changing from the color of a summer sky into a darkness as deep and foreboding as the depths of hell.
Alandra took a hesitant step forward, but stopped when the warrior woman pushed the blade she held more firmly against Rhinona's throat.
Alandra looked helplessly into Rhinona's eyes, unsure of what to do next, feeling for the first time completely powerless. She inhaled sharply, her lips silently forming a question. A question that had been on everyone's mind moments after this mysterious woman had emerged from out of that damned gateway?
"Who are you?"
Shooting pain, burning behind her eyelids?into her slowly weakening mind? The sound of a whip cracking against bare skin and then more pain?.
?Where am I? ?
The thought is cut off as the whip comes in contact with skin again, Silvius winces, and tries to open her eyes. Her vision is blurred; she can only make out the outlines of things. What little color there is seems to run like paint. Slipping in and out of consciousness, she is barely aware that someone is talking to her, their voice sounds coarse like sandpaper, and has a menacing tone to it which cuts into her like broken glass.
Finally her vision clears like a camera coming steadily into focus, and she finds herself looking up into a face that is both human, and not human. She pulls at the restraints on her arms in sheer desperation, but they only become tighter.
"Where is the book?"
"I don't know what you're..." she begins to say, but her words are cut off as she feels the whip against her skin again.
"Where is the book?" he repeats again.
He stands back, his hulking figure seeming to fill the whole of the room. His skin has a strange red hue to it, and appears rough like leather. He is more monster than man, his eyes his only human feature. They are a soft brown color, but cast off no warmth. He stares down at her, and she feels cold inside.
She looks around at her surroundings. She is in the middle of what appears to be a huge temple or church of some kind. She stares up at the huge stained glass window to the right of her depicting Angels and Demons locked in eternal conflict?She stares up at it mesmerized.
He reaches down, and grabs her face with overly course fingers breaking her out of her trance.
"I won't ask again," he says "where is the book?"
The feel of his hands on her face trigger off a memory?a memory of someone she used to know.
"I know you," Her lips begin to form a name, a name she has not spoken in centuries.
But he isn't listening, he signals behind her and the whip cracks again, stopping the word in her throat.
"Tell me where the book is, and I'll end this."
"I don't know," she says again
"I'm beginning to lose patience with you," he says "Either you've forgotten?or you're lying to me."
He signals to the creature standing behind her.
The other creature nods obediently, Silvius stares at him as he passes, his form is more animal like than this other one, more wolf like. His yellow eyes stare down at her as he leaves the room?She is left alone with the remaining creature.
She stares up at him, and he smiles, and Silvius shudders at the darkness behind it. He places his overly large hands on either side of her head, and the grin broadens, his eyes changing from soft brown to a darker black.
"You will tell me where the book is" he says to her, "One way or another you will tell me."
Now he closes his eyes, as though concentrating, and he utters a single word
Silvius can feel an odd tingling sensation, it feels as if something is trying to break down the doors of her mind, desperately searching for something. An intense white light flooding through the hidden corridors of her subconscious?followed by a myriad of images?people and places that she can not recall.
She can see herself as a younger woman standing in the middle of a huge hallway that she is not familiar with. The face of a young man that she does not recognize?save for the eyes that remind her of someone somehow, like the eyes that the creature had.
Next she is holding a baby girl both beautiful and precious with dark hair and eyes as blue as any tropical ocean. Then she is standing in the middle of a ravaged battlefield. Surrounded by death on all sides, bodies scattered all around her.
She looks to the left of her, from out of one of the houses emerges a figure. She turns towards the figure as if in slow motion. Dressed in the armor of a warrior, she strides through the flames?but they do not touch her. She is running now, clutching a book tightly to her chest, the inscription on the front reads 'Volumi Inis Non Toctis' (Book of darkness)
Silvius watches as the figure runs past her, and her eyes widen in shock, and then disbelief, as she realizes who it is?somehow?though she has no idea how this can be?but somehow it is Alandra Valentine.
Lilith stood there, staring at her with a cold indifference, almost as though she were staring at an insect that she was about to crush. Alandra shifted nervously from one foot to the other, her eyes constantly moving from Rhinona's frightened face, to the cold blade of the sword still pressed firmly against her throat.
"What do you want?" she yelled at her, unable to keep the frustration out of her voice.
The dark haired warrior said nothing, and continued to stare, making Alandra feel extremely vulnerable. She might be imagining it?but it felt as though her cold stare could penetrate deep into her soul, to reveal all her deepest secrets and darkest fears. Averting her eyes to the grass beneath her feet, Alandra waited patiently for the dark haired woman to speak.
"My name is none of your concern." she answered coldly.
With a slight movement of her wrist she pushed the sword ever more closely to Rhinona's vulnerable throat; leaving little room for her to draw breath.
Alandra stared up at her again.
"Please let my friend go."
Lilith pretended that she hadn't heard her, and with a vicious tug she pulled back Rhinona's head so that she could look into her eyes, and see the fear there.
"Please don't hurt her,"
The dark haired woman let go of Rhinona's hair. Alandra felt a wave of nausea wash through her, as she too sensed or rather felt her friend's rising fear: the sound of Rhinona's racing heartbeat echoed inside her head, sounding impossibly loud.
She staggered, swaying momentarily, but managed to stay upright, and stay focused.
"Let her go damn you."
"Why should I?" sneered Lilith,
Alandra tensed, Lilith's eyes remained locked with her own, no emotion behind them whatsoever. It felt as though a great weight was pushing down upon her shoulders. She could feel herself losing control of her emotions, of the whole situation.
It was if she were walking along a very thin tightrope, trying to stop herself from falling into the darkness of her anger.
"Let her go damn you or so help me,"
"You'll what," scoffed Lilith.
"You're all the same?you guardians," she said spitefully.
"You think you're all so powerful."
"I'm not like the other guardians," stated Alandra in a voice calmer than she felt.
"Oh let me guess?you're special?more powerful," mocked Lilith.
"That's what you're leader appeared to be, but I made short work of her." she said her lips forming into a twisted smile.
"You bitch!" screamed Alandra.
Amy reached out, and pulled Alandra back.
"Don't let her get to you; she's just saying that to wind you up." she said.
Alandra ignored her, but already she could feel herself tottering precariously on the edge, about to fall. Her anger was about to take over. It rattled around in its cage threatening to break loose at any moment. She took a deep breath?trying to hold it in. She could feel herself shaking with the effort, her balance becoming more, and more unsteady, her hands shooting back to her head again, the pain of holding it all in?overwhelming.
It felt as though her head were being crushed in a vice. She could barely walk; all conscious thought seemed a titanic effort.
"Oh my?Maybe I was wrong about you," Lilith stated, as she watched Alandra stumbling around. She could feel her trying in desperation to keep a lid on her anger?trying to stop it from erupting outwards like lava from a dormant volcano.
"You have far more power?than I ever expected," she said.
"Far more than that so called leader of yours...but you're still no match for me."
"You think so," said Alandra.
She could feel her lips moving automatically, but the voice that came out sounded like a complete stranger's. She couldn't keep the anger locked inside her self any longer. It shot from her fingertips like a bullet from a loaded gun; a physical manifestation of her frustration, of her fury at the atrocities that this woman had committed against her family, and her friends.
The force sent Lilith flying through the air, the back of her head impacting heavily with one of the tombstones behind her. She shook herself into consciousness, rising quickly to her feet?but before she had a chance to even think of a possible counter attack. Alandra had Materialized behind her, and was now holding one of her swords, distracting the warrior long enough for Rhinona to run to safety.
"Still think I'm no match," said Alandra as she pointed the sword at the dark haired woman.
Lilith swung her remaining sword outwards, but missed by miles. Something was very wrong here?the back of her head felt warm, and fuzzy. She reached up with trembling fingers to touch it. When she brought her fingers back to her face?they were bright red, slick with her own blood.
She could feel it slowly dripping down her face, and wiped it away to stop it from going in her eyes. She had to think fast, she was badly hurt, but she couldn't go back empty handed. There was no telling what her father would do to her if she returned with nothing. Looking around she frantically searched around her, until she spotted Amy partly hiding behind one of the tombstones.
Using the last of her strength she materialized behind the girl, and forced her to her feet. Her eyes locking with Alandra's mirroring her contempt. Alandra could hear the dark haired woman's soft melodious voice in her head.
"You won't be so lucky next time," she said. Before she and Amy vanished from sight.
Alandra stared at the empty spot that Amy had been standing in. She could still hear Lilith's voice in her mind?only this time she was laughing at her, the insane sound of it rang in her ears, and no matter how hard she tried she just couldn't block it out.
The sound of the storm had woken her. The small cell they had locked her in was small and made Silvius feel claustrophobic; what little light there was slipped in through the through the bars at her window. Silvius struggled, but managed to pull herself up so that she could look outside. The sky was lit up like the fourth of July. Jagged bolts of lightning streaked across it in random patterns. Grey storm clouds glowed eerily.
In the distance she could see what looked like huge platforms of rock floating above an immense black ocean?that bubbled and churned?obviously acidic in some way. On each of these rocks was a temple or a military building of some kind, light poured out from each of the small windows like a thousand tiny flames scattered across a huge space, staring up at the alien sky, she silently prayed that Amy was somewhere safe.
Her mind went back to what had happened in the village square?but it was like looking back at a nightmare that she wanted desperately to forget. She still had no idea who that woman with the dark hair and strange swords had been?or what she had wanted?but the more she thought about her, the sicker she felt.
What could have made her so cold inside? For Silvius to be without a heart was to be only half alive. Never connecting, never caring for anything, or anyone. What could make someone so cold, and hollow inside.
Then there was Draven, neither man nor beast?what was his part in all of this? She wondered.
"here is the book?"
He had asked her that question over and over again. What book was he searching for? Why was it so important to him? What was its purpose? She could still remember the images she had seen after he had probed her memory as clearly as she had when she had first experienced them. She still didn't understand why couldn't she remember any of them happening?
Out of all of these images two had worried her the most. The first had been the image of the baby girl?Who was she? She knew that it couldn't have possibly been Amy, Amy's hair was fair, and her eyes a hazel brown, whereas the baby's eyes and hair had been dark.
The second had been of Alandra Valentine holding a book. Was this the book Draven was so desperately searching for? And if so what did Alandra Valentine have to do with it? Somehow she had to make herself remember?she just had to?