The Sanctum had since calmed by the time Anders, Kael, and Ryker passed through the portal.
The injuries which ailed Ryker had made the slowest of progress, but at least he held consciousness, and that made both men more hopeful. A group of people rushed them as soon as they saw the struggling form between them.
“Get him to the infirmary!” Anders said; his voice authoritative and strained from the weight of Ryker leaned against him. Two men took his weight and started carrying him down to the infirmary.
Kael looked around, surveying the damage. His eyes finally landed on the chipped and battered alcove. His brows furrowed as he gazed on in confusion. “What’s happened?” he asked, directing his line of question to Gregore who was quickly approaching them with a look of relief.
“Ah! Kael, Anders, it’s a relief to see you both! I trust the portals are workin—”
“Shut up you fool!” Anders interrupted with an angry sneer, the timbre in his voice on the urge of panic. “Where are Emri and the Empress?” Gregore, who had been looking at him in shock from the outburst, quickly averted his eyes elsewhere, to a more neutral target—one not so aggressive. But patience had since left Anders’s two moons ago. And he was not in the mood for petty games. “WHERE ARE THEY?!”
“M—Miss Dyer is down in the infirmary and the Empress … well she …” he stumbled around with his words as he began pointing aimlessly around the room.
“She’s gone,” he finally stated. “She went into the portal with the orb. She’s dead.”
Both Anders and Kael flinched and then looked to the other. They were too late. “Emri?” Kael inquired, fully knowing the young woman would be grief stricken and in need of consoling.
“Inconsolable, sir. She had to be physically restrained … and you can see the damage she wreaked on the portal. Thank the Gods we stopped her—”
“What’d you do to her?!” Anders asked; his voice low and full of warning as he stepped forward and confronted Gregore. Like Emri, he had never cared for the man either. Great minds thought alike.
“We had to stop her,” he said slowly, refusing to say anymore. And that was their answer.
Anders’s blood ran cold, heart stopping at the fierce shiver that slammed into his body.
“For your sake, you’d better hope she’s alive and well, ‘cause if not, you’ve just doomed us, my friend,” and he stormed off for the infirmary, leaving Kael and Gregore to discuss the urgent matter at hand.
The earth beneath her tilted on its axis as her head fought against the dizziness that plagued her. Brightness greeted her in place of the darkness she had expected. The ground under her fingers felt warm, soft, and grainy. She clawed at it and realized it was grass and dirt, both warmed from the sun. She lifted her head, feeling bits of matter fall from her cheek and hair. A few feet from her rested the purifier orb, still intact.
Nora sighed; her eyes still trained on the orb, and allowed her head to rest back on the ground. All appeared quiet, and while that should have seemed alarming, Nora just wished to rest and deal with whatever awaited her later.
But as she closed her eyes, the methodic sounds of light footfalls flowed into her ears. Her breathing halted as she waited for a recognizable—and friendly—sound. Any sound that would quell her now racing heart.
To her dismay, the sound that came caused numbness to envelope her body and the hairs at the back of her neck to stand.
“Well, well,” the painfully familiar voice taunted.
Nora’s eyes slammed shut then reopened, desperate to hope it was a dream—a nightmare. But as she heard the soft ruffle of clothing and those same footfalls round her, she knew a nightmare was the least of her concerns, because now in front of her, stood her mother in all her imperial glory.
The woman’s lips twisted into a snarlish smirk as she approached her fallen daughter. “My dearest Nora. It’s so lovely to see you, and after all this time,” she said with a fake smile and animated elatedness.
“Mother? No … no, it cannot be,” she whimpered as she tried to make sense of what—who, a seemly real who, stood not but feet from her. Years of unspoken nightmares were manifesting right in front of her eyes, and it appeared all too real.
“Oh, don’t fret, sweetness,” Kali cooed in response to her daughter’s weak and fearful tone. A vicious glint in her eyes as she also took in Nora’s wide eyes and paled complexion. This was how she lived—thrived, on the fear and terror of others. “You are still very much alive. As I am I, you see.”
Kali’s gazed shifted to a spot behind her and she smirked.
Senses heightened, Nora turned her head, and saw Lord Tyron, a couple unknown guards and her father, of all people. Her heart broke at the sight of him. Had he been in on this the entire time? Playing her just as her mother had? It pained her to think such thoughts, but her question was answered not but a second later as Arturo and a guard walked to her and lifted her to her feet. She viciously fought at them, her short nails catching enough skin to tear and mangle, but with a slap, a quick yank of her long hair, and a few muttered obscenities, the struggle stopped; Nora restrained between them, tears falling down her face. She appeared weak, and she knew it, but while they were tears of betrayal and sorrow, they were also tears of anger—fury.
Kali voiced her disapproval by clicking her tongue and shaking her head. What an insolent brat, she thought to herself. “Why the long face, my child? Are you not happy to see me? Your mother, whom you thought dead?” After no response and cold eyes staring back at her, Kali laughed. “No matter, you are in for a treat this day … and I must say all this would not be possible without your help, dearest. But you still have more to give yet.”
The tyrant closed the distance to her daughter and grabbed her face harshly with her hand, her boney fingers crushing the young woman’s jaw. Kali’s lips curled in a twisted sneer as she watched Nora struggle.
“You’ve brought the demigod this close,” Kali muttered, her face close to her daughter’s—establishing a challenge, “now all I need is her standing before me.”
Nora, finally retreating from her stupor and gathering her courage, spoke fiercely through her pinched mouth, “You will not touch her. I will not help you.”
Kali didn’t seem the least fazed with her declaration. Instead, she seemed to have expected it. With a menacing glare, her fingers tightened their grasp, blood releasing at the tips of her nails.
Nora closed her eyes as she readied herself; prepared to have rage wreaked upon her. She tensed at the next words.
“That is where you are wrong, my child,” Kali seethed, the corner of her lip curling in contempt. “You will be the one to bring her to me. Need I remind you of our last agreement? That of which you failed to honor?” Nora’s defiance faltered. “Yes … you thought I was stupid … played me for a fool, but I was simply holding off. Reserving my claim for another time—another opportunity. And that has arrived this day.”
With a swift flick, Kali released her, and as her mother turned her back, Nora screamed, “Why her?! Why me?! Why?!”
Nora felt Arturo tense against her, his hands shaking, clutching her arm. Her desperate pleas obviously having affected him.
“Oh come, Nora, don’t be so naïve! I know you know of her purpose—her destiny. It was written by the Gods, after all. She is the divine peacekeeper, or so it is spoken.”
She paused as she fiddled with something on her belt.
“She’s a threat to my cause; a threat to my power. I desire absolute control over the realms. The dark has forever been discounted—spat upon, but the dark realm will never been in the shadows again. I will annihilate the other realms and crush the boundaries that separate us, including those foolish enough to believe they are safe outside of the realms—those who took refuge in the outlands. The White and Gray will merge with the Black and we will all live equally—together under my supreme rule. And your savior—the demigod, is destined to thwart my grand plans.”
“You see, she is a symbol. She’s symbolic of hope and peace. Uniting the realms and ending our long standing feud. She is the hope that people prayed for—desired, but never knew. Now I will bring a pretty face to the faceless written prediction. The people of Thrice will see their demigod—their savior for the first time. They will see everything they’d ever hoped for standing right in front of them. Within a finger’s grasp distance. Then, once that hope swells within their bellies, I will crush her right in front of their pathetic faces. Everything they hoped—aspired for will be turned to ash right in front of them. And that, my child, is where you come into play.”
“No … you would have to kill me first.”
“All in good time, my child. As I said, I still have use for you—whether willing or unwilling, you will do as I command. Then, well, I just might do as you so wish.”
Kali walked to Arturo, and whispered something in his ear.
Nora fell to her knees in front of him.
“Father, please … please,” she said, eyes shimmering and hands grasping—begging through her actions. Begging for what, she couldn’t place, but she hoped her father, despite him being somewhat of a stranger, could interpret her plea. From his side pocket, he brought out a single restraint—a solid bar—and bound her hands together; the bar securely linking her receptors together. Only then did he make eye contact with her. It was short—ending almost as soon as it had begun. But in that moment, she swore she saw a flicker of something. As his golden eyes bore heavily into new brown, and as her frantic hands found his own, he jerked them away and turned from her, his face as blank as she had ever seen it. Perhaps, she had just imagined it. Her options were fading right in front of her—her hope along with it. She heard a light thud beside her as Arturo tossed something near her, but she didn’t look to it. Lord Tryon followed Arturo, as well as, the guards, leaving just the two of them—mother and daughter.
Silence stretched on between them. Kali’s eyes never leaving those of her daughter’s, even though the gaze was not often returned. Amusement twinkled in her eyes as she watched the pathetic emotions wash over her daughter who was on her knees like a common underling; a disgraced dethroned monarch kneeling—yielding to her superior.
Nora recognized the look all too well. Awash in shame, she attempted to fight back, with whatever she had left. Optimism had never been her strong point, and her mother knew that, but she was determined to play it up. Confidence, despite how false it is, could be a powerful thing.
“Your plan has failed, Mother,” she whispered boldly, “for no matter what you do to me, you will not succeed.”
“Oh? And what makes you think I will not? Enlighten me, dear, please.”
“Since birth you conditioned me to be as ruthless and vicious as yourself. You broke me. Then built me back to your liking. And you succeeded for a time. But Emri saved me, and this day what darkness remained within me, faded completely. I have reclaimed my soul, and will do whatever it takes to save the realms from your wrath—forever.”
“Now that answer troubles me. Do you honestly think this one act of chivalry and self-sacrifice will change other’s opinions of you? Wipe the darkness from your soul, as you say?” she asked patronizingly, and Nora faltered in spite of her efforts. But Kali caught her hesitation. “Ah, that’s doubt I see. That’s a question and scenario I see you’ve played around within your mind many times over. Well, no more! I’ll answer it for you, my dearest. Brutally honest, yet simple: IT WON’T, you foolish girl! They see you, and will continue to see you as one thing and one thing only—EVIL. No amount of good deeds will triumph what you are, my dear.”
“And what I am, Mother?” she asked, rage boiling within her eyes. “Through your eyes I’ve been nothing more than a disappointment. A burden you only tolerated because I had the promise at birth of being your heir. I had the promise of being a ruthless ruler, just like you. I may have been your daughter by blood, but I know you would have slain me the moment a better and more appealing option came to your womb. I was nothing more than a marionette that you so elatedly toyed with.”
Kali scowled at her in abhorrence, her lips curled, and face taut with pent up aggression. In the span of a candle flicker, a sharp blow struck the side of Nora’s face, knocking her to the ground, cheek blazing red and vision blurry. She could already feel the tightness at the side of her face.
“You certainly have developed a sharp tongue, not to mention your lack of respect and manners. But you are so wrong!” Kali bellowed as she towered over her daughter. “I only tolerated you, not because you were my blood and heir, but because of this very day! I knew you would be important. And I was right. My coming to power would not have been this easy should I have slain your lover that day. I knew you were important to her the moment I saw the two of you together. You were her weakness—her downfall. You and you alone would ultimately bring her down.”
Nora shook her head, still disoriented, but firm as she murmured, “You do not speak of Emri.”
Kali, disappointed with her daughter’s lack of fight, clicked her tongue sorrowfully as she mocked her. “Oh my,” she cooed, “my dearest child. What did I tell you of love? You could have saved yourself so much pain had you listened to me. Love is not what rules kingdoms. Love isn’t what saves people from death—it certainly won’t save you. In fact, it was what truly condemned you to this fate. It’s only an emotion that will break you … and unfortunately for you, it has already claimed you.”
Rolling the metallic liquid off her tongue, Nora spat out red and breathed a couple of times before she responded as confidently as her weak voice would allow.“You are wrong yet again. To have the love of another gives you strength, but to give love to another, to let yourself love, and love honestly, it takes courage, and I have both. That’s what separates us, Mother. Love.”
“In that, you are correct, my dear, and that’s why killing you will be easy.”
She turned away and yelled a single command to her sycophants. “RELEASE THEM!”
And mayhem would soon rain down upon the realms.
He stopped mid-stride as he looked at the pitiful form in front of him. He almost didn’t even recognize her. The months of travel had not been kind to her, that much was for sure as he looked at her fresh wounds and old wrappings.
“Gods,” he let out in a quick whisper as he surveyed Emri’s state from close up. Her ashen skin blended into the pale stone behind her, and her sunken eyes and patches of red, blue, purple, and black tinted skin clashed violently against the light wall. In her state, she looked like the dead—unmoving and unseeing, her once beautiful green eyes now vacant.
Dried and caked blood settled beneath her nose, at the corner of her mouth, and at her wrists. Her cheeks were stained with dried tears along with a growing and nasty looking bruise from where the guard had struck her.
He knelt beside her and clutched his fist to his mouth.
“She’s gone, Anders.” It came out as a whisper, soft and raspy.
Anders, unsure of what to do given the twisted circumstances they found themselves in, leaned in to her and clutched her shoulder with his hand, squeezing in reassurance. Emri’s swollen and blood-shot eyes shifted from the wall to his. A moment was all they needed to communicate everything they needed. The burly man had never been the one for poetic words or gestures, instead preferring the simplicity of an encouraging smile or hefty pat on the back. And for the all the years he knew Emri, he understood she didn’t need words of reassurance this time, because none existed to fill this incredibly raw moment. Nothing in the worlds here or above and beyond could heal the insurmountable pain. But with a gentle, grounding touch, it was just enough to let Emri know she wasn’t alone.
She attempted a teary yet appreciative smile and turned her gaze back to the wall as fresh tears trailed down her cheek.
“We need to go,” he said after a few minutes of silence, but Emri didn’t even acknowledge his words. He was just about to say them again when screams and loud crashes sounded from the levels above. Then his patience vanished like water in the air, quickly replaced with fear and determination.
“Come on, we have to go,” he said as he went to lift her.
She flinched away from him, her face pinching in pain from the action. “Just go, someone will be down shortly … they’ll treat me then if they see fit.”
Every nerve in Anders’s body zinged with caution. They had to move and move quickly if they, or anyone else, were to survive this. Agitated, he said, “Damn it, Dyer! Kali is alive—she’s here in the Realms. Maybe here as we speak.”
That seemed to have jolted Emri from her stupor. Her gaze cleared and body tensed as she watched him carefully.
“She’s alive and I have to get you out of here!” He paused and allowed the room to go still. Loud noises could still be heard above them. “D’ya here that?!” he asked with a frenzied look in his eyes, his hands sifting nervously through his long tied back hair. “She’s unleashed hundreds of men into our Realm … the White as well. We have to regroup and stop her at all costs, before she destroys everything!”
“And what do you expect me to do?” she asked, tiredness seeping from her words. “What even can I do now?” She motioned to her body, wrought with debilitating injuries.
“Well, first things first, we need to get you healed up, get these wounds treated. Then, well … the plan kinda falls apart there.”
Unwilling to wait for her response, he ran to the supply closet located several halls down. His heavy boots clambered with each hurried step and his various adornments secured to his belt rattled noisily as he ran; a firm hand latched onto the handle of his dagger. He encountered no resistance and took note of the very apparent lack of persons within the infirmary. Hopefully, they all were taking shelter in hiding. With constant glances over his shoulders and looks to the numerous entryways, he wrenched open the iron-barred door; hastily shifting through the supplies and grabbing handfuls of linen, various ointments, salves, pill jars, and vials of tonic. Something in there would surely help her. Piling the materials on a thin squared linen sheet, he pulled the corners together, making a makeshift sack, and he ran back to Emri’s room.
As he cleaned and treated her wounds with unrelenting speed, at times making Emri bite back gasps and loud yelps with his less than gentle touch, she decided to ask her questions. Hopeful for a reprieve in her current suffering.
“Kali … how?” she asked through gritted teeth.
Gaze trained on the horrendous wound on her wrist, he went on to tell her everything Kael and he had discovered: from her faked death, to her knowledge of Emri’s demi-status, and Arturo’s role in the ploy. And, with reluctance, he even told her of Ryker, after many reassurances that he would recover without issue. He worried his fingers as she seemed to soak it all in like bread to pottage, her expression indeterminate to the turmoil roiling inside her.
Her face remained neutral with only the spark of rage igniting within her eyes. But Anders felt everything she kept from the surface. He felt it crawling beneath his skin, mounting within his skull, and instigating the fine hairs on his neck and arms to stand erect. One thing was certain; he was playing with fire and needed to choose his words carefully if he wanted any positive action to come from this. Fortunate for him, or unfortunate, depending on how it all transpired, he knew how to work her—to make her leap into action. From their years together, and through their hardships as mentor and student, he understood her strengths and weaknesses, and he knew how goad her into action. Was it an infringement in their trust? Yes. Was it wrong? Yes. But in saving lives of the innocent, including their own, was it necessary? He believed so.
“What about the portal?” she asked quietly.
Anders’s hand stills as he directs his gaze to meet hers briefly. “Gone, I believe,” he spoke and resumed work. They were taking too long. He was surprised they hadn’t been found yet. But they were tucked away in a far corner, room dark and out of the way. Perhaps that was their advantage. “A great threat still remains, though.”
“And Nora?” Her voice broke at the utterance of her name. “She didn’t die for nothing then?”
“No, but she will, Emri, unless we stop all this. Stop her.”
He picked up a clear, green tinted glass jar and dumped out a few roughly rounded white powdered pills in his palm. “No, not those,” Emri said, shaking her head and hand. “They’ll make me sleep.”
He nodded and went for the next item: Grimish Seed Oil. Not to be confused with Grimish Seed Bread, but it held many of the same healing properties, just not as potent or effective. In a pinch, it would work quite well, at least for what they needed it for.
Time pressed on regardless of Anders’s urgent movements. He wagered they’d only spent less than a half hour’s time from the moment of his arrival to the point they were at then.
He could tell in her movements and overall disposition that her heart simply was not with her anymore. She seemed to feel better, at least physically. But she was so tired. Her will gone—nonexistent.
But Anders refused to give up, instead encouraging her like he had done countless times. Now was not the time for weakness, and he’d settle for no less than all she had to give.
“Come on!” he said, trying to help her to her feet. She resisted. “We have to fight back!”
“I’m so tired of fighting, Anders. I don’t have anything left in me.”
“People are dying! And more will, unless you step up and do something! You couldn’t fight this alone, but you have everyone at your side, just waiting to help … waiting for you to fight alongside them.”
“I’m not a soldier. I couldn’t even hold a blade if I wanted to in my state.”
“No, but you’re a demigod, Emri. And with that comes power—influence. Whether you want it or not. People will follow you just for who you are—what you represent.”
But she said nothing, instead choosing to ignore him.
And so it would begin; his dangerous game with fire.
“She will die in vain if we don’t act!” he pressed, face red and angry. “Is that what you want?!”
“How can you ask me that?”
“Because you’ve given up!”
“No!” she bellowed as she rose to her feet, bringing herself level with him. “I just watched a woman—a woman I loved more than any person on these Gods damned worlds, die. And no one will ever care. No one will mourn for her, or celebrate her sacrifice, or the life she gave up to save them. She will be remembered for her past, nothing else. Her name will be muttered under the veil of disgust, because in their eyes, justice prevailed. ‘The wretch got what she deserved,’ that’s what they’ll all say.”
She turned to sit back down, but his next words were carefully and meticulously arranged, spoken to evoke emotion. In his experience, actions often followed strong emotion.
“You know what you are—and I never thought I’d say this … but you’re a coward, Emri Dyer.”
She stopped and turned her head slowly to look at him. His words slapping her square in the face. They were deliberate and cut straight through the bone. “I am no—”
“You’re a fucking coward!” he yelled back. Maybe it had been too much, but it certainly invoked the reaction he desired. The pressure in the room doubled. He would have to quell her anger and quick to avoid her hurting herself further.
“Take it back!” she yelled as she slammed him into the wall; her forearm pressing against his throat.
The force knocked the breath from him. “That’s it! Get angry!” he said between gasps. “Cut me down right ‘ere, right now! At least you’d be doing something!”
It was then she realized what he was trying to do. The point he was trying to make. “I’m not a murderer,” she spoke defensively and on instinct as if it was something she constantly had to prove to herself.
“No,” he conceded, his voice soft and understanding. “But she is. Nora would have survived the portal if Kali hadn’t tampered with it. Avenge her. Fight for her, and when it’s all over, you can tell the people of the Realms the story of her great sacrifice. You can tell her story, and make sure she’s given the true justice she deserves.”
Then, yelling and loud rumbling met their ears. It was now or never. Emri turned her head to the entryway; watching and listening; conceiving a plan as she did so. When she turned her head back to him and her gaze met his, a powerful shiver shot up his spine. Her beautiful emerald eyes had taken on a special darkness; almost black in their appearance. He felt the strength in her fingertips, in her hands, in her arms—in her whole body.
He whispered, “Let’s give the people of Thrice something to hope for.”
They both gripped the handles of their daggers as men breached the door.
“THE REALMS ARE UNDER ATTACK!! TAKE COVER AND FEND FOR YOUR LIVES!! People were screaming as Emri, Anders, Kael, Darcy, and a few others gathered outside the capital building.
As soon as Emri and Anders had left the infirmary, they only encountered a handful of opponents. What made the situation even direr and tragic was the fact most were scared young lads with only minimal training and clumsy coordination; easily taken down, but at each swing of Emri’s small blade, she felt a part of herself giving way. She was cutting down young men who likely didn’t wish for this fate. Young and older men alike who certainly had families—lives; only doing Kali’s bidding out of fear. But ultimately, it was her life or theirs, and she had a purpose to see through. A purpose for the betterment of humanity.
The scene outside screamed chaos as the roar of shouts and shrieks thundered through the streets. The thick air, toxic from the numerous fires started within the city, hung low and filled their lungs, mouths, and eyes with burning soot. Emri coughed a violently as Anders grabbed her shoulder and yelled into her ear, his voice fighting against the intense volume around them.
“Find Arturo, first,” he said. “He’ll lead you to her. But he’ll be playing his card as Supreme Councilor, he’ll be well protected.”
“And you’re sure about this?” she asked, still uncertain. “Threatening the life of a council member is enough grounds for banishment, but killing … that surpasses banishment—that’s death.”
“I’ve told you everything I know. All the evidence is there, Emri. There is no doubt in my mind. Kali might have been the mastermind, but he was the apprentice, and he obviously did a superb job.”
Emri nodded and looked around. There had to be several dozen men around them. Many moving the injured, dead, or simply huddled together, holding off what threats approached them in unison. The enemy’s numbers appeared to be falling, but even one capable of harm was one too many. They had to have at least semblance of a plan. Organized chaos. They wanted her to lead, so by the Gods, she would lead.
“Listen up! All of you!” she commanded, running toward them to make sure her voice carried. They all watched her curiously, blades flinching in their grasps. “We need your help.”
“We are not soldiers!” a few cried out. “We will all be slain.”
She shook her head vehemently as she looked to Anders and Kael. “We’re not asking you to be soldiers,” Emri said, trying to quell their fears and inhibitions. “But we do need your help—our people need your help. Get word out, as fast as you can. Residents remain in their homes, doors locked and barricaded, and they need to be hidden. The harder it is for these bastards to get their hands on ‘em, the more likely they are to survive this chaos. We also need some men to go down to the infirmary and clear it out. The injured need a safe place to stay and be treated. But for anyone who can hold and swing a blade or fire an arrow, you’re desperately needed here, with us. So as you’re out, recruit anyone else you can. We need all the help we can get.”
Less than an hour’s time had passed since the Realms were flooded with enemy forces. But much could still be done.
“Let us send these bastards back where they belong!”
Her search for Arturo turned out to be less difficult than she initially considered. He must have thought highly of himself as he paraded through the capital building, surrounded by guards; his steps steady and confident, elegant robe following behind him. He played the part well. What nerve he possessed. To walk the same halls as the people he betrayed. Brazen and arrogant. But Emri immediately thought it odd, and then everything slid into place. He was from the White. No other members of White were here. Peculiar, yet it only made to solidify Anders’s and Kael’s points.
Then a familiar sensation ripped through her body like fire to grease. Instantly filled—overcome with rage and hatred at the knowledge of Nora’s betrayal—at the treachery to the realms. She was his own flesh and blood—his own daughter, and he led her willingly to her death. Gods damn him, she thought.
Emri could feel herself pulling away, her morality along with it. Restraint, self-discipline; all obliterated by this darkness that never seemed to let her rest, never fully vacating her body. Like a parasite, it found its source and latched on for dear life.
Perhaps this was what Kali wanted all along. She saw Emri’s weakness—the shadows that hid beneath her flesh. The goodness that resided inside her yet was so easily overcome with the darkness Kali had always called home.
To bring someone of Emri’s nature down to her level would be most gratifying, Emri mused to herself. Kali knew she would avenge Nora’s death. And Emri was playing right into her game. But her mind was too clouded to process such information.
Tunnel vision impeded her sight. “ARTURO!” she bellowed, her voice filled with pain, agony, rage, and hatred. The air surrounding them became thick and made it difficult to breathe. The floors and walls shook, and at first no one dared to approach her.
Emri could feel everything building; not only within her, but in the atmosphere as well.
Overflowing with rage she descended upon the traitorous bastard who betrayed not only her and the realms he represented, but his own flesh and blood. The guards of White lunged at Emri, and while not even blinking an eye and never breaking sight with Arturo, she charged her receptors and released a powerful slashing force. The guards were cut down, and she arrived in front of Arturo with inhuman speed and soon found her hand and fingers wrapped around his throat; slamming him into the marble wall. Her hand clinched violently against his throat with unbridled strength and fury. “You betrayed your daughter! You led her to slaughter you fucking traitor. Now you will pay the price,” she spat with all the rage filling her veins and pouring into her heart and soul.
“But she lives! She lives!” he stated in panic, gasping for breath at each word. “Nora! Kali has her in the sanctum! T—too valuable to kill! Please!”
Emri studied him as best as her thrumming body would tolerate. She could see the truth in his eyes, laid out there along with panic and fear. But she knew in her heart there was no truth to the statement. “You lie!”
She was lost in it. The hunger for revenge was insatiable as her whole body shook. With all the strength her enraged body could direct, she jerked him from the wall and pulled out her once blunted dagger. The weapon she was once ashamed of, now honed to deathly precision, found its short length buried within his chest—effectively piercing his heart.
And just as quickly as it all began, it all ended. The air around whooshed out of her lungs as she collapsed to her knees. Her eyes and cheeks burned from spilt tears that had tracked down her face. Her chest burned within intense heat and pressure as she cried out; suffering from a myriad of emotions finally boiling over. She closed her eyes as it took her.
As soon as her head cleared, she recalled Arturo’s words. Nora might not live as he said, but at least could find Kali. She sprinted, legs and body protesting with each hurried step, up to the Sanctum where she would confront Kali and end this once and for all.
When she got to the entrance, she slowed and approached with care, mindful of each step as to not alert the evil woman of her presence. But as soon as she saw her beloved alive and breathing, kneeling on the floor—moving, everything else stopped. “Nora?” she asked, her eyes still unbelieving. “Nora!” she cried, heart fluttering in her chest as relief washed over her.
When gorgeous brown eyes met hers, they immediately filled with dismay. “NO! No Emri! No! It’s a trap!” she shouted back, but it was too late.
A searing pain ripped through Emri’s abdomen. She leaned forward clutching right below her ribs as breath became hard to come by. The pain intensified as she saw a bloodied knife protruding from her body, the slight bump of her fingers against the handle sent her into a dizzying frenzy. She looked to her left, and saw Trysu by her side, face lit with victory. He’d stabbed her. Overwhelmed with her drastic turn of events, she missed the raw screams emitted from Nora.
“Ah! The demigod … as I live and breathe,” she stated, approaching Emri with a mirthless grin. “Come, Nora, are you not going to introduce us?” Kali asked, directing the question to her helpless daughter. After no response, she continued. “Pity, as you were the one who continuously stole precious moments from me and my daughter. But no matter, ‘tis in the past, and I have you exactly where I want you. After all these years of preparations …”
“I—I don’t know how I’ve come to vex you,” she said between labored breaths, “but this strife seems to be between you and me. Leave your daughter out of this. Let her be.”
“No, I think not, young demigod.”
Someone—a guard, Trysu, she didn’t know, but they struck Emri in her still wounded and sensitive thigh and wrists. She cowered and collapsed in response. The strength suddenly wrenched from her.
“Make sure she sees this,” Kali instructed.
Emri felt a set of strong hands grip her wrists, each holding something metal to her receptors—containing her energy. Then another hand painfully grasped a hand full of her hair, pulling it taut, restricting her movement and forcing her to look ahead, right at Nora. Oh Gods, she thought. Gods, no.
It was then Kali unsheathed a unique blade—small for a dagger, but oddly shaped, particularly around the hilt, where it narrowed considerably.
Nora watched with quickening breaths as her mother drew near. Dread roiled in her stomach causing bile to rise in her throat. She truly feared now. She and Emri had escaped death for too long, and she knew in the pit of her stomach, that time had now come for them. There was no evading it now. Her worst fears were being realized. Not fear for herself, but fear for the one she loved most. One of them would witness the other’s demise, and she knew it would be Emri.
Kali knelt in front of her daughter, her free hand combing back damp hair from her face. She leaned in to place a soft, deceptive kiss against her clammy brow, when Nora tore her head from her. Kali snarled and wrenched her face back to hers, fingers digging painfully into the soft flesh of her cheeks. “Compliments from your heathen friends of the hollows,” she said bitterly into her ear. Then, without blinking an eye, she forced the blade into Nora’s abdomen—once … twice … thrice, until she slipped it between Nora’s ribs and twisted it mercilessly, breaking the specially forged blade off into her. The pain was instant, but the fierce fire that spread through her veins overcame her first. Poison infiltrated her system.
Separate screams echoed off the marble walls, and it was music to Kali’s ears. She threw the useless handle, and it clanked to the floor before skidding to a stop against the far wall. “Leave us,” she demanded and Trysu as well as the other guards left, leaving her alone with the two women.
“Yes. You see, unlike you, I learned control,” she whispered in her ear, a sickening sweetness to her voice. But Emri’s jumbled thoughts came to a grueling halt as cruel fingers circled the handle of the dagger still buried in her and twisted with all the rage and force her body, arm, and wrist could manage. She cried out in agony as the twisted blade was then yanked from its warm fleshy holding. The young demigod fell to her back; liquid heat pooled and rolled from the wound.
“I underestimated you,” Kali taunted as she circled Emri like prey. “Pity. I’d hoped you would have had more fight in you. I wanted you at your strongest. Instead look what received me, a damaged demigod not even worth her weight in all the riches of the worlds. You know, I had the displeasure of reading all the wretched stories and tales you so carelessly filled my daughter’s head with. Even at her young and impressionable age, you made her believe she was worthy of something. That despite all the odds, good always prevailed over the wicked,” she mocked. “But what you so foolishly failed to realize, is that in reality, stories are written and told by the victors. And victors are not always good, are they? This time, I will rewrite history. And will it be a tale for the ages!” she spat and straddled Emri’s waist, her knee purposefully digging into the spilling wound of her abdomen.
“I will put your head on a pike … you, along with my daughter. Display them for all of humanity to witness. A symbol of my ruthlessness—my power. In one fell plunge of my blade, I will crush all the hope that remains within the hearts of the people of Thrice. You were their hope—their bringer of peace, and I single-handedly destroyed you, a young demigod and her beloved. A tragedy for the ages. A story—lesson of what befalls those who oppose me!”
She stretched her arms high above her head, the point of the dagger aimed straight for her beating heart; a sinister smile twisted upon her face. Dark eyes gleaming with absolute delight.
Emri’s breath was ragged in her chest, but her eyes never left Kali’s. That was one sick pleasure she refused to give her. Knowing how Emri feared her—feared death. But just as Kali’s back arched in preparation, a hollow thump sounded. Emri’s eyes left hers for a second, and saw an encouraging sight: a sharp protrusion from her chest—the head of an arrow greeting her.
Kali’s shocked expression flitted from Emri’s eyes to the foreign object buried in her chest. The hand holding the dagger swung out as Kali fought to breathe.
Sensing her chance, and with all the remaining strength and energy she had, Emri sat up. She knocked the blade from Kali’s grasp, and struck her hard in the face, causing her to lurch to the side.
She had the despicable woman at her mercy. The one source of pain—commonality for both Nora and herself. Of all the evils this sole woman has conceived and executed, Nora had always caught the brunt of it. Well, not anymore. It all would stop this day.
As the color slowly seeped from Kali’s face and as her eyes dimmed, Emri chanced a glance at the only person who could have put an arrow through the evil woman’s chest. Nora had since collapsed on the ground and she lay there unmoving.
With what little strength remained, Emri called a part of her she rarely ever willfully summoned. The darkness that would always reside inside reared its ugly head, much as it had done with the dungeon guard and with Arturo: the last souls to face her wrath.
She gripped Kali’s head at her temples and unleashed energy so intense, it ripped what life remained straight from her.
As Kali’s body turned limp in her grasp, Emri pushed her to the side and she toppled over in a heavy thump. Long minutes passed as her body began to fail her. She stared up through hazy eyes at the intricate ceiling and stone work of the sanctum. Dust and debris lingered in the air as she breathed it in, breath after labored breath. Her eyes burned and threatened to close at each blink. She was past tired—beyond exhausted. The time for her battered body to finally rest was approaching fast. She just wanted it to be over. For the suffering to stop. Her head lolled to the side as Emri looked at her love’s form once more. Warm tears spilt from her eyes as she was suddenly overcome with emotion. Nora hadn’t deserve this fate, and by her own mother’s hand, no less. Emri berated herself in anger. Some protector she had been.
“I failed you,” she whispered to Nora’s still body, which lay several feet away, her voice thick with saliva and blood. But her heart fluttered with a mix of emotions as she heard the softest sound and saw Nora’s hand lift to the air. She had called Emri’s name.
Emri, fantastically injured, crawled on her stomach, her damaged legs and arms couldn’t even support her, over to an equally injured Nora.
“Nora?” she whispered, brushing dark hair from her face and eyes. Emri’s lips trembled and she let out a sob when a cool hand cupped her cheek. Unable to hold the hand in her own, she leaned gently into the hand, turning her face so she could press a lingering kiss to it.
“We’ve really done it this time, aye?” Emri said quietly in her typical fashion. Trying to make light of things—ease their minds.
“Oh, Emri …”
She had nothing left in her. Emri knew if she used her touch—her energy to calm Nora, it would be over that much more quickly. But not one second—not one solitary thought, caused her to think otherwise. Her own wounds were too far gone, and while her pain shot through her body, she wouldn’t tolerate the same for her love. She raised her hand and caressed a pale and bloody cheek. With a grimace from pain, she inched forward until her nose brushed against Nora’s temple. She placed the softest of kisses right next to her ear before she whispered, “Close your eyes?”
She then allowed what energy was left of her to enter Nora. The scene was oddly reminiscent of their reunion. Emri could see the pain recede from her eyes. Her face becoming less tense and more relaxed as the seconds passed.
“Stay with me, all right … just please, stay with me,” Emri begged as she also saw the light slowly leaving her.
“J—just, please … I don’t wanna let you go. I finally found you.”
Nora looked at her with those heart shattering eyes and attempted to smile, and Gods was it one of the most beautiful sights she’d ever seen. The way the natural sun light hit her from above gave the illusion of an angel from the heavens above. The moment between the two women became even more heartrending when Nora uttered her next words. “I’m not scared, not anymore.”
“I always said I would protect you,” she spoke, her voice tender and full of admiration for the woman beneath her. “I’m sorry I failed you. I’m so sorry.”
Nora shook her head and gasped; her body tensing and eyes closing.
“Nor—Nora, don’t … look at me. Just … keep lookin’ at me.”
It took a few seconds for her breathing to steady and her eyes to open. “I’m not alone,” she finally said. “I always feared I would be—that I’d … that I’d die a—lone. But—but I’m not … not any—more.”
Tears spilt from Emri’s eyes and landed on the pale flesh below. She kissed them away, refusing to let any contact between them go untouched. “I love you. I love you so much.”
“Y—you are such a beautiful person, E—Emri Dyer. Please always believe that, my love. And—and I … love you.”
Emri leaned down for one last kiss, and in that moment, she swore she felt the life leave Nora in one final exhale. But she didn’t open her eyes. Instead, she pinched them firmer together, afraid of what she might see should she open them. Nevertheless, white spots began to form behind her eyelids, and her body turned cold; a fine sheen of sweat developing over her heated skin.
This was it. The final few seconds of her life.
The last thing she heard was the sound of numerous footfalls racing down the corridor.