Two days. Two days and they now were within reach of the Gray Realm, less than two leagues to be exact. It was a wonderful, freeing feeling. The weight of the realms lifted from their weary shoulders. The remainder of their task would be simple now. With a bit of luck, by morning’s dawn, Emri would be nestled within the warmth and safety of her bed at home, and Nora alongside with her. Emri’s heart sped up with the notion. She closed her eyes to envision those moments; to bring her fantasies to life. If she felt this way now, she didn’t know if her body could handle the reality of it all. Finally, after all these miserable years, in a mere few hours, that part of her life would be over and she could start anew with a love that would last lifetimes and a new title of Master at the Capital. Nora deserved this opportunity as well. All of that and more, and Emri counted away the hours in which she could give it all to her. But in the Realms of Thrice, nothing was ever that easy.
The woodlands surrounding them thrived with an abundance of life, so unlike winter in the Dark Forest of Fawr. Here streams flooded with energy, giant weeping willows swayed with utmost grace and elegance in the gentle afternoon breeze. Birds fluttered and sang beneath the overstory. The sounds around enchanted them, sending both into peaceful contentment: the soft whispers of wind as it flowed against the vegetation, the gentle laps and splashes of water against the rocks and current, the occasional snap of twigs as critters danced across the woodland duff, the echoing lullabies played forth by songbirds.
The warm springtime breeze invigorated Emri’s flesh as she closed her eyes and settled into her thoughts. How she wished she could have romped through these woods as a child. She opened her eyes and could not find one deathly or diseased tree. The gloom which had enveloped the dark forest ceased to exist here. If she had known these woods laid right outside her window, or even thought to look, she would have spent for more of her time out here than in the constricting confines of her residence.
They topped a small hill that gave a straight view to the kingdom that lay in front of them.
Straight away, Emri looked for the trademark capital building. She knew it would be the first thing she saw considering its design and size. She smiled as she gazed upon her city. But she saw nothing that resembled the Gray. No meticulously hand crafted steel buildings. No shimmering glass. Just simple elegance built within the foundation of nature. Emri’s breath caught with the sheer beauty of the sight. She couldn’t tell, but the buildings seemed soft, not the typical hard edges found on most homes or structures. They appeared to have a sandy fawn color to them.
In that moment, Nora paled as a heavy gasp left her chest. Emri turned to her in alarm, jerking Trysu along with her. He fidgeted in protest but didn’t fight her.
“Nora?” The concern in Emri’s voice didn’t break her gaze. Emri looked in the direction of her stare but saw nothing. “Nora, what’s the matter?”
Nora just stared blankly. “We’re not in The Gray Realm,” she whispered.
“Wh—what?! Where the three are we then?!”
Nora turned to look at her, and it was at that moment, that panic filled Emri’s heart. Nora looked of absolute fear. “We’re in The White Realm.”
Emri’s eyebrows rose in surprise not expecting that answer. In fact, she felt relief and didn’t understand Nora’s apprehension. “Oh, well … that’s still good, right? I mean, at least we’re at a realm.”
No response came and she thought back to their journey from the village.
“Did we misread the map or something?” she asked.
“I don’t know, but I’m afraid we have company.”
Emri squinted and look in the direction Nora nodded toward. A small cloud drew near.
“I’m guessing that’s the welcoming committee?”
“No one’s ever breached the realms in this manner. This could be very dangerous, Emri,” Nora spoke as her wide eyes never left the horizon. A line of white horses with gleaming gold armor reflected in the high afternoon sun. They drew near, riding faster and faster as brittle dirt was kicked up around them, encasing them in a dust cloud.
“For them?” Emri asked, not quite grasping the situation Nora was alluding to.
“For us, Emri.”
Both women rode down the hill and stopped when they thought enough distance had been left between them and the other forces.
Each party stopped in front of the other, a vast amount of space between them. So much, in fact, neither could identify the other through appearance. The opposing side were dressed in all white expect for the slight touches of gold that caught the sunlight. The guards stood steadfast, spears and swords raised in determination and intimidation. Their numbers weren’t too impressive. Emri counted ten guards and a lone unarmed and unarmored man. She hoped this would go their way, if not; Nora and her would have a difficult if not impossible altercation on their hands, considering neither were particularly gifted or trained in hand-to-hand combat. Emri gulped at the notion.
Emri dismounted first, followed by Nora. They were slow and cautious with their movements, trying not to spook the forces in front of them. Up ahead, she saw the lone man dismount and stood steady. Emri put her hand up in a mollifying manner, but as soon as she did, an invisible force grabbed her, immobilizing her and sucking the air from her lungs. Her wrists burned as the receptors that wrapped around them restrained her. She briefly heard Nora cry out for her before she too was silenced. Whomever this individual was, he was powerful. Then, they both were thrown back, like children’s straw dolls in an angry wind.
Pain shot through Emri’s left hand and up her wrist to her elbow and then shoulder. A few of her fingers had been dislocated as well as her shoulder. The pain that thrummed through the left side of her body ached at an immeasurable level. She couldn’t even lift herself from her prone position on the ground. Her shoulder screamed at each and every strain, causing white splatters across her field of vision, but the moment she saw Nora lying on the ground, struggling to move herself, a pain of a different measure flooded her being. Red colored her world and she screamed through the pain as she stood.
And just as she expected, she felt an unseen force grip her body, but the difference this time, she anticipated it. On pure instincts, and really not expecting anything significant, she threw up her both hands as best as she could, letting her natural energy unfold around her, and Gods was it spectacular.
Because her powers had been so unpredictable in the past, she really didn’t know how to control them or hone them. But perhaps this wasn’t about control. Right now she was furious, and determined to let the unknown entity feel this.
The air around them cracked and splintered with unadulterated energy. She felt the static lick against her flesh and the tiny hairs across her body rise with each passing moment. Nora’s presence behind her encouraged her on, but she could hear Nora’s cries of protest begging her to stop. But she couldn’t. Not when the amount of energy being thwarted could blow them apart.
Emri found her powers to be almost equally matched to the unknown attacker. She had known for quite some time the power and gift she had been blessed—cursed with, but she never knew it could be used to such an extent. Her arms, shoulders, and chest, and the muscles beneath burned in protest as she continued to overexert her body. It was quickly becoming clear the opposing foe was gaining strength.
A roaring sound vibrated the thick air and deafened both foes. The ground fractured beneath their feet, like cracks slicing through ice or glass.
With a sudden burst of energy, the metal plate encasing her wrists began to burn and she could feel her skin beginning to split vertically at her bracelet up her arm nearing her elbow; her flesh tearing like fissures in the earth. The pain was immense and her arms quaked for that very reason. She grew lightheaded as the pain enveloped her fully and she screamed out silently. Her teeth clenched to the point of cracking, but her concentration never gave. She had to protect them—protect Nora.
Pools of blood gathered at her feet and with every drop it would splatter against her well worn leather boots. Her body was failing and fast
Nora stood helplessly as she watched Emri waste away, her powers weakening with each thrum of the force. She tried in vain to approach her numerous times, begging—pleading for her to stop—that it was killing her. Panic didn’t even describe her current feeling. She would have taken her torture thousands of times over to kept from witnessing this—keep Emri from harm. Despite the years of pain she endured, this surpassed everything. Watching someone you love die right in front of your eyes exceeded all forms of torture. Something you would never come back from.
These past few months told her so much about the young woman she had always loved, yet with each passing moment that love, which seemed to hold no bounds, grew even more into something so indescribable and filling. The weight of it was fulfilling yet suffocating. Suffocating in moments like this, as she watched blood spill from lean arms and pool at her feet. Liquid crimson dripping from her nose and even the corners of her eyes. The pressure must have been ungodly. She had never seen nor experienced Emri’s true power; only witnessed the signs and symptoms that were to come. The way her body shook with pent up rage, the muscles and tendons straining against her flesh, the red that swept over her hardened face, the look of determination settled within the depths of her eyes.
She diverted her gaze and settled on the challenger. Oddly enough, they seemed equally matched which puzzled Nora even more. Her thoughts didn’t allow her to dwell too much on those petty matters, but a question lingered at the back of her mind nonetheless. Emri was far stronger than she ever conceived, and Nora only new one class of humans who possessed such strength.
But then, unaware of how close both she and the enemy had become, she finally saw his face. He was smiling at her. Elation etched across his face like this was all an amusing game. He nodded once to her as if to say, well done, well fought.
Finally, all came to an end, with a final push from the opposing side. A bright white light was emitted and came hurtling toward them like a massive stone wall.
Emri flew back several feet as Nora screamed out her name.
Emri was unhearing of such a pitiful sound for her body went numb. She gazed silently up at the blinding sun until all went dark, including her pain.