Shadows, blacker than the void they crawled through, stirred. The night was plagued by them, sick with them, an infestation concealed from Light Dweller sight by the Shadow Dragon's veil. Lana sucked in a sharp breath. Confusion wrapped her in a strange silence, the pause between a dream world and the real one. She was sure her eyes were open and she was awake, but darkness smothered her vision as though she still slept. The small flame sheltered in her lamp had been drowned by the night. The darkness could not be the reason she had woken.
Noise rent the silence apart. Screams, shrill with pain and panic, calls of dark beasts, vile and cursed, commands barked in unfamiliar voices and lost words, a chaotic mess of things being snapped and destroyed, bellowed the answer why from beyond the walls of her room. The sounds were not normal. Drums drowned out the disarray in her ears, the beat of war, pound of alarm. If the drum was her heart she could not think to realise it.
Smoke tickled her nose, a whisper under the roar of panic. The smell was danger. Her head reeled in the commotion, to understand the cause, to call an action, her arms and legs seized by indecision between the two. Darkness cracked, like wood under the assault of brute force. Splinters of broken sound hurdled through her mind. Timber creaked around her, the impact carried through the walls of her room. Her heart rose in her throat, and in that moment she knew the drum to be its beat.
Warning urged her to move. The crack of wood had come from her home. She had to move. The night would tear the house apart and there would be nothing to shield them from shadows. She had to protect her family, protect the village. They needed her help.
She scrambled from her bed and fumbled in the dark for her lamp. Warmth glowed from the gaps in her shuttered window. It was not enough for her Light Dweller eyes to find even her hand held before her face in the void. Everything was black. She swallowed her panic, calmed the swell of her chest and the tremble of her legs, and let her fingers guide her.
Her hand bumped a smooth, cool surface. She snatched for it and it retreated from her grasp. Sharp chimes of a shattered goodbye sang out. Glass bumped against her feet and oil flicked her leg. She cringed. She had broken her lamp, the lamp her father had left to watch over them while he was gone. It was all that remained of him. Shadows had taken the rest, and she had broken his memory.
A scream pierced her closed door, punctured her, louder than the others, more vital than the need to breath. She could not hold panic back. Somehow, in a part of her mind she wished she could not hear, she knew it was her mother. Danger was in her home.
She launched herself toward the door of her room and found it hidden in the dark. Need masked the stab of glass that nipped her steps, the apprehension that cautioned her, and pushed her to move faster. She needed to protect her family. She clawed for the handle, and with a shove the door flung open.
Smoke filled her lungs, clouded her sight and brought tears to her eyes. She coughed and squinted through the haze. Faint light raised grains from the wooden walls of her home, cast in harsh extremes of stark black and warm brown. She could just make out the narrow corridor that lead to the front of the house. Anguish echoed from ahead, picked out of all the shouts that deafened her, out of all the turmoil and threats that crept from the night. It prickled the hairs on the back of her neck. Dawn, she would know her sister's voice anywhere.
She charged forward. Numb to the jostle of walls and prickle of glass in her foot. Her watery eyes blurred the way, her mouth dry with the taste of burnt wood. The echo of Dawn's cry pushed back any hesitation. Her head was filled with it, no room left for thought. The drive of her blood was all she felt. The glow ahead was all she saw. The Light Dragon had given her a gift to protect them. No one else could. She had to.
Through the glow and haze of smoke a dark stain loomed into sight. A pungent smell oozed from it, the crisp odour of burnt meat. Courage fled her feet and she froze at the end of the hallway. Details came to her in small pieces, picked from the shrouded silhouette. It was a dweller, tall and muscular, dressed in dark trousers, his chest bare and skin pallid. He was no Light Dweller. His hair was black, as black as the veil of night, and his body marked with a dark pattern that hugged his shoulders. He was a Dark Dweller. Stories were not dark enough to paint the image before her. Nothing she had imagined, no beast she had heard of, came close to the horror of reality. He had stepped from the night, like she had been warned a Dark Dweller would, to cast darkness into her home, over the village, and bring terror.
Behind him the door to her home was splintered and charred, thrown from its hinges. Flame licked at the wood of the broken frame that once held it. His attention was on something across the room. He had not noticed her. Steel sliced light into shards and flicked them at her through the smoke. The Dark Dweller's sword, angled to point at the ground. Red dragged her eyes down its blade, to a pool by his feet. Blood soaked the wooden floor, spilled from a broken, lifeless body. Fabric, a gown once white, was torn away from the mutilated chest. White bone jutted from it, fractured and exposed. The reek of burnt flesh wafted on smoke that trickled from it.
Lana had lost her legs, lost the thought to fight, though somehow she remained upright and ignorant of the impulse to run. She closed out the cold, empty eyes. They stared through the black of her eyelids. She tried to forget the exposed bone, sundered flesh, blood that stained golden hair red. Bile rose in her throat and she swallowed it back. She tried to remember how her mother had looked. Those eyes had once glowed. That skin had once been warm, so warm each hug was like the Light Dragon's rays had wrapped around her. She needed to forget that she would never see her that way again.
Her eyes snapped open. Dawn cowered from the Dark Dweller's shadow, alive, unharmed. The man turned his attention to her. His eyes, hot and orange, locked on her and a grin snaked across his face. Blood smeared his chest, dripped from his fingers. He was the one who had killed her mother. He would have killed Dawn too, if she had been any slower to wake. Her lips drew back into a snarl, wrenched by a sudden hatred, a need for revenge. Power surged through her, through her arms and legs. Fury fuelled the rush of its energy. He had butchered her mother.
Ground shivered with the footsteps of men, so many dwellers, and the thump of something heavy being driven into dirt. Water burdened the skies, though it had leaked for days and days already. Plants groaned in death and wilted under the peril of flames. Some resisted the fire, but could not withstand the heat. Lana ignored their complaints, their warnings. Only the swirl of air mattered. She seized it and it rose around her, lifted in a moment of restraint. Her hair lifted with its ascent, weight less in it.
"Lana, No! Run."
Dawn screamed from somewhere beyond the roar of power. Distance made it a whisper, easy to ignore. She had already failed to protect mother. She could not let this Dark Dweller tear Dawn and bleed the life from her as well. The wind in the room whirled, stirred by her temper.
The man did not move, did not flinch or level his weapon against her. Eerie heat smouldered and danced in his eyes, a blaze of fire trapped within. His grin widened and he sheathed his sword at his hip. He was not worried. Anger ripped through her and she pulled the air currents stronger, around her, around the room. He should be worried. It whipped her hair, yanked her gown, and twisted with her whims. She was going to make him pay for what he had done.
Shutters crashed open from a window that had been boarded up for the night. Flakes of ash were pulled from beyond and swept into the tempest. Dawn scooted away and ducked into a corner, her retreat unnoticed by the Dark Dweller. He stepped closer, unafraid and she faltered at the threat. The air around her thickened with warmth. Waves of it pressed closer, torrid and constrictive, too hot in her nose, too dry in her mouth.
Water was chased from the atmosphere, stripped from her skin. Heat enveloped her, brought by the wind she commanded. She could not stand it, the warmth that bore down on her, the ache of her lungs for fresh air to relieve the density of it. The kiss of a burn seared her arm and she gasped. Gusts of heat blasted away from her, thrown with the wind in a desperate attempt to cool the swelter.
Dawn shielded her face and braced against the gale. The house rattled and broken wood clunked as it tumbled from the force. The heat was not gone. It permeated the night. A trickle of sweat slipped down her brow. At least she was no longer swathed in it.
The Dark Dweller folded his arms across his chest, eyes hot with fire. Long trails of smoke smouldered from the wall behind him, the wood turned black by his heat. He had power granted by the Shadow Dragon, fire to destroy what the Light Dragon had created.
"You are gifted."
He spoke in a strange way, accented in parts she would not have thought to draw attention to. She picked through each word to understand. It was not a question. The Dark Dweller knew.
She flinched at the snap of realisation. She had been warned by her mother, by Dawn, and by countless others, countless times. She should never use her power under the veil of night. Silence bound the three of them together in the broken night. His mouth twisted into a smirk.
"Come with me now and I will make this easy for you."
She scowled in reply. He was arrogant to think he had all the power. She was not weak. She was stronger than him. Energy flared within her and she drove it into the ground, in search for the patient earth below the wooden floor boards she stood upon. Rock and dirt gave her new foundation, a stronger foothold. Heat would not bother it, fire would not scorch it. Impulse called it to her aid. The house groaned and creaked at the shift of rock and dirt beneath.
Light blinked, a sheen caught on something sharp. In a flash of movement the Dark Dweller rounded on her sister. He snatched a fistful of Dawn's hair. The blonde was so warm against his pale skin, her face too innocent for his intent, soul too bright for his shadow. His darkness would swallow her. She screamed as he hauled her to her feet and pressed the blade of a knife to her throat.
"Alright, I do this the hard way."
The cold menace of his threat cut, her breath severed by its blade. The ground slipped from her grasp, its support gone, and the rumble groaned to silenced. Unsettled, the tingle of her gift prickled at her fingers, ready to aid her. Her eyes darted of their own volition to her mother's body, splintered like wood, no more care given to her life than had been granted to the door of their home.
Elements howled, within her and without. They grieved with her, shared in her anger, her desire for revenge. The flow of her energy washed back the bitter taste in her mouth and soothed the pang of hurt in her chest. Tears blurred the blood and bone together and she looked away.
She wanted vengeance for her mother's life, for the many other lives she knew had been taken in the night, but she wanted to save her sister more. The Dark Dweller flexed the knife against Dawn's throat. Her sister's whimper pushed her from the edge of hesitation and she snatched the only choice she had to break her fall.
"Stop," the word slipped through her teeth.
Anger curled her hands into fists. She would condemn all the others with her selfish decision. The choice he had forced her to make was not fair. The dweller raised an eyebrow.
"Please, don't hurt her."
Dawn's quiet sobs filled the tense silence.
"Let your energy rest," he commanded.
His voice spun in her head. All of her anger and fear, her distrust and concern, stifled by the weight of shame. Tears streamed down Dawn's cheeks, the Dark Dweller's blade ready to cut the price of resistance from flesh. Lana could not bring herself to change her mind. She could not pay Dawn's life for any other, not even her own. She let her power go and its warmth retreated. A chill shivered across her arms, down her neck, through her core.
"I'll come with you," she said, "just.. just let her go."
The man barked a laugh. He kept the knife to Dawn's throat and his fist full of her hair.
"You have no power to make demands, gilth."
She clenched her teeth against the slur. She had never understood the insult it presented until this Dark Dweller jeered it at her like that. He jerked his head toward the charred remains of the doorway.
Lana kept her back straight and her head up to mask her defeat. He would let his guard down, he had to. When he did she would take that moment, she would free Dawn, and she would make him suffer for what he had done.
Careful to keep her gaze high, away from the death that marred the ground, and give the Dark Dweller a wide berth, she picked a clear path to the shattered remains of the doorway and stepped into the night.
Fires bloomed from the darkness. Some were homes. Others looked to have been started on the ground. It did not make sense for Dark Dwellers do such a thing. Their eyes would see better in the night. There was enough light for her eyes to see by, to see the full horror of the damage and violence they wreaked. Her stomach twisted and anger led her father from the remains of her home. It did make sense. They had started the fires for Light Dweller eyes.
Fear rang shrill in her ears. Harsh laughter silenced it. Not far ahead, dark men burst out of a home. One wrenched a Light Dweller out after him, her night gown all but torn off, long blonde hair the only thing left to cover her in places. She looked up, her face illuminated by fire light. Lana knew her, Eve. She knew everyone in the small village. Eve, though, had grown with her. She had been a good friend, before Lana had awakened.
Eve's gaze found her through the legs of her captor. The smallest flicker of hope lit her eyes as she recognised the face she had spotted. Lana looked away. The glimmer of Eve's faith burned in her memory, next to Dawn's tears, next to white bone and red blood. She was the only one in the village who could fight. She bit down on her lip to stop its quiver.
"Hurry up," the Dark Dweller snapped at her back.
She fought her instinct to approach the group, calmed her terror to stand tall and strong as they turned their attention to her. She eyed the three, their sable hair, their black and red armour, and the sharp weapons that hung from their hips. They were dressed far more how she had pictured a Dark Dweller. They even wore black cloaks that hung from their shoulders and swept the ground behind them.
"What's this, Ruer Ieraas?" the one who held Eve asked.
His eyes drifted over her, less polite than his question, more curious than his tone. Lana wilted under the gaze. Wind brushed the hem of her night gown against her knees, a quiet plea for her power to command it. She clutched her skirt to silence it.
The others turned. One with eyes all white and face scarred, the other hidden in the shadows of a hood over his head.
"Gifted female," her sister's captor answered.
The Dark Dweller's eyes widened. His white eyed comrade reached for his sword and the hooded one stiffened.
"Detain her you idiots!"
The white eyed dweller took the order in stride. Lana scowled at him, even as he towered over her and snatched her arm. She ignored the pinch of his gauntlet and the chill it pressed against her skin. He shoved her into step. Dawn gasped behind her and she struggled to glance over her shoulder. She received another shove for the attempt.
"Eyes forward gilth," the Dark Dweller snapped.
She swallowed back angry words and glowered ahead. If they did not have Dawn she would have something to say.
Pain punished every other step she took. Somewhere between sleep and panic glass had found its way from her lantern to her foot. Adrenaline no longer numbed its nip. Thick smoke clouded the sky, lit from beneath as it rose into the darkness. Through the acrid, burnt and charred odour something fresh and damp comforted her nose. Rain was on the wind. Her gift had showed her it was. Now, she could feel it without the aid of her power.
Debris and specks of bright embers made obstacles to navigate her way around. Nearer to the centre of the village bodies of Light Dwellers she knew, that she had worked with and laughed with, complicated her path. Clouded by smoke and churned by the rise of nausea, her head was light on her shoulders, light like it was when she slept. The restraint, too tight, too hard, on her arm was a dream. So too the blood and destruction, the dead men and children she was lead past.
Smooth rocks carried her feet closer to the centre. She turned away from a body in her path. Her escort shunted her straight ahead and she lurched over the corpse, her eyes squeezed shut. Liquid, too thick and sticky to be water, drenched her foot and her toes curled.
They stepped free of the sheltered confines of buildings and trees, into the village square. Colour abandoned her face in a cold rush, deserted her to the clutches of dread and shock. Movement pulled her attention in every direction. There were so many of them, so many shadows. Shadows clad in armour and dark robes, with halberds that stood tall by their sides. Wicked curves and sharp cuts of polished steel pulled her gaze over their weapons' honed edges, their presence alone enough to drain blood.
Creatures she had only heard about in ghost stories haunted the village centre. Animals that were like horses, but sharp in the mouth and dark as the night with a belly for blood, the tales had warned. Words did not capture their darkness. They were far more twisted than horses. Tufted tails snaked from behind them, their faces pointed like a canine's, and their feet cloven like sheep. Their eyes threw light away in disdain at every glance. If these were real, as the stories had said they were, the night hid many other dangers she would rather not witness.
Cages on wheels lined up in ready around the courtyard, attached to the beasts. Some of the cages held dwellers. All of them were women. Dark Dwellers, dressed in the same crude fashion as her sister's detainer, idled by one of the wheeled cages. They would command heat like he had, it radiated from them.
A nearby beast let out a shriek that bristled the fine hairs on her arms and neck. She took a step back. Her captor twisted her arm, his grip tight enough to stop the blood flow to her fingers. Lana clenched her jaw to stifle her yelp.
The shirtless Dark Dweller, the others had called Ruer Ieraas, pushed past with Dawn in tow. He dragged her toward a large central fire, skirted by thick stakes that bound light men from her village, the stones shattered where they had been driven into the ground. Her face flushed, hot with fresh anger to drive colour back into her cheeks. It was her garden. They had used her garden as a fire pit.
Ruer Ieraas took Dawn toward a stake, one of the few that did not have a prisoner bound to it. Fire made him a silhouette to her eyes, but she swore she could still see the smirk on his face. Shadows passed her, the Dark Dweller with Eve, his prize, in tow, and his dark companion. Lana paid them little heed. Her eyes were locked on Dawn and the monster that held her at knife point.
She took a step to follow and her jailor yanked her back. Her power swelled with her ire. With its aid she could join her sister's side. Not fast enough to stop the knife at her throat. She pushed it down. Her gift would not help while the Dark Dweller was so close to Dawn. She would not let her sister die.
He gestured to a shirtless Dark Dweller near the cages, black hair long from his chin and his head and pulled together in tails. The dweller glanced to her, eyes baron with fire and grinned. He spared a nod to Ruer Ieraas, and launched into a hurried jog. Lana did not watch where. Her eyes darted back to her sister, to the rope that snared and fastened her to the post. Dawn's gaze stayed on the ground.
Lana's power stirred, pulled at her, nagged to be released, and she shifted. There was something wrong. She should have fought from the moment she woke. Tears burned in her eyes. If she fought, the shadows would swallow Dawn like they had swallowed her father, and now her mother. She set her jaw and straightened her back, ignorant of the Dark Dweller who held her. Ruer Ieraas would not harm Dawn if she did not use her gift. He said he would not, said he would make it easy for her. As long as it would save her sister she would not fight these monsters.
Unease settled in her ears, a strange quiet in the night that was worsened by the stamp of impatient beasts. Dark Dwellers had paused in their work, every face turned to the far side of the village centre. She followed their gaze and her eyes strained to see. The outline of a figure stirred in the darkness there. Frustrated, she leaned forward and squinted in search of details. The Shadow Dragon's veil did not allow it. She could not see in the dark.
Clatter filled the night as the Dark Dwellers saluted, halberds or swords across chest plates. Her escort straightened beside her. The figure emerged from the night, into the firelight, and the urge to back away itched her feet. Details were hidden from her eyes, shrouded in a black cloak, face cast in shadows. Power seeped from it, like heat seeped from Ruer Ieraas. This was the leader of these Dark Dwellers. Lana was certain.
Work resumed in swift and deliberate movements, the pause broken and the village haunted by the stir of shadows once more. The figure's gaze set every muscle in her legs stiff with the urge to run. She could feel it on her, even as it stopped by Dawn, even as its mouth moved and Ruer Ieraas responded. He pointed right at Lana and the figure closed the distance before she had a chance to brace herself.
In the shadow of the cloaked leader she had forgotten how to breathe, how to move, where she had even found the gall to blink. Eyes loured through the darkness, a purple, washed out by the lack of light they witnessed in the dark. It was not the warm purple of the bright night, there was nothing to comfort her in his darkness. He looked down his nose at her.
Pride squared her shoulders. Fear could not take her strength and will. She did not have to be afraid. They were dwellers, like her. She stared into the shadows of the Dark Dweller's face.
"What do we have here?"
His voice sent a chill through her despite the heat of the large fire made from her garden, and sliced a flinch from her rigid front. She managed a scowl, pointed at the ground.
"Pathetic" he growled.
He grabbed her chin and forced her face to him. She jerked at his touch.
"Don't touch me!"
She tried to break his hold, her efforts ignored. He turned her face, as though she was a purchase he was not sure was worth the price, and the corner of his mouth twitched. Water flicked her shoulder, a droplet from above. The sky had broken under its burden. The leader released her face and gestured. Her captor pushed her forward a few steps, closer to Dawn, closer to the fire pit and the stakes. She kept her eyes on him.
"What's your gift girl?" the leader demanded.
Lana glared at the Dark Dweller. Dawn screamed and her eyes darted to her sister. Steel traced a slow line down Dawn's abdomen, a knife, Ruer Ieraas's knife, unhindered by the fabric of her night gown, impartial to her flesh. Lana yanked against her restraint.
"Stop it! Please!"
Blood, thick and red, stuck sheared cloth to Dawn's skin. Tears welled in her eyes. He had promised. Her power roiled inside her. The leader's mouth jerked into a firm smile. She fought to halt the surge of energy, the stir of her gift. She could not give Ruer Ieraas an excuse to kill Dawn. A small sob escaped her and her shoulders slumped under the weight of her turmoil.
"Show me," he ordered.
"He said he wouldn't hurt Dawn if- if I didn't use my gift," Lana said
"He doesn't command the authority, I do. Show me!" he said.
Lana flinched at the edge in his voice. Shadows made his face a horror of voids where his eyes should be. Dawn's screams subsided and she made frantic attempts to retreat from the blade that hovered by her face. She could still save her sister. They had no reason to kill her. Rain pattered around her in an uneven rhythm, unsure of its descent.
She breathed in through her nose and closed her eyes against the disorder, the distraction of Dawn's wounds and the flicker of fire. Power flowed through her, not calm or a comfort under the scrutiny of the night. Her nightgown tapped a quiet caution at her and her stomach churned. She took a deeper breath to wash away the red of blood and the soot of fire that stained her eyes and choked her nose. Drops kissed her head, her cheeks and shoulders, each an attempted blessing from the sky. Each broke cold and empty against her.
The call of wind and water, the ground and fauna nestled within, filled her head. They blocked out the groan of death and destruction, the pop of fire, the cries of panic. She saw through the wind and ground, the water at every point its drops burst or gathered into puddles. She brushed the smoke, the putrid odour of burnt meat and acrid tickle of charred wood, away with a swirl of wind. Gold strands of her hair swirled on its wings and the light fabric of her gown flicked her legs, its caution more urgent. The ground rumbled at her touch, vast beneath her, strong enough to support the weight of any decision she had to make. Her escort squeezed her arm tighter.
Rain danced and she halted the celebration. Droplets froze in the air around her, defiant of the wind that tried to buffet them. She pulled the drops toward her, together, around her. They gathered into a stream that flowed through the air instead of across the ground. It was not calm to quell the rise of apprehension in her chest.
She let go, no hesitation, no moment risked for Dawn's life. Water splashed to the ground and rain was free to splatter against her skin. The ground shrank away, left only the dirt below her feet to hold her up. Wind trickled to a gentle breeze and smoke wafted back without its wings to sweep the haze away. The world was small and distant, hidden by darkness and tainted by death.
She opened her eyes to face the shadows, reassured they had what they wanted and she would have what she wanted in return. Drips from water and crackles from fire fought for dominance in the quiet night. There was nothing else to oppose their battle. The courtyard was still and silent.
A grin split the leaders face. The look was maniacal in the contrast of fire light and black voids. She shuffled, uncomfortable in the quiet, and glanced around. Her friends and neighbours watched from their restraints, faces bright with hope. She bit her lip and let her gaze slip to her feet. Her face burned, scalded by a flush of shame. The shadows wanted to swallow her and they would leave the village now that they had her. Her lips trembled at the thought and she drew them together. Dawn would not die. That was what was important.
Sparkles blinked in the corner of her eye, caught on something the lead Dark Dweller pulled from the void of his cloak. Glimpses of it looked like fine strands of hair. He handed them to the one who held her in place and nodded to Ruer Ieraas.
The shirtless dweller grinned. Energy warmed the air, his power over heat. He had called on his dark gift. A cold wave washed through her. The chill froze her heart, hushed the breath in her chest, and the world stopped around her.
Puffs of steam hissed the demise of rain drops as they perished in his heat, none close enough to wet him. Flames ignited in the Dark Dweller's hand. He turned his palm upward and the fire twisted into a ball. A small battle to break loose raged within its confines, the flames furious at the restraint. He seized Dawn's chin, his dagger abandoned to clatter on the ground at his feet, and wrenched her mouth open.
Horror, icy and tight, constricted Lana. Her eyes widened. Dawn squeezed hers shut. He took his fire, the ball of flames, and pushed it into Dawn's mouth. Terror took control of her sister. Violence stole away her sense. Desperation strengthened her arms and legs. She thrashed against the assault, her efforts contained by the rope that bound her to the post. The quiet was worse than the strain of her body to break free, the primal need that possessed her sister, the animal she had become in the shadow of death. Silence had destroyed sound. Dawn did not scream. Her chest rattled for air, and still silence in place of agony, suppressed twitches in place of struggle.
Flesh blackened beneath the Dark Dweller's hand. Lana could not move. Smoke trickled from Dawn's nostrils. She was held in place by something stronger than the dweller who restrained her. Blood bubbled from her sister's nose and within moments thick red streams of scarlet dripped from her chin. Disbelief was the chain that locked her legs to the ground and her eyes on Dawn. Burnt flesh, sweet and putrid, weighed the air, heavier than the burden of rain the clouds held over her head.
Dawn's eyes, the colours of spring and summer, always bright beneath the worry she held over them, rolled into the back of her head. She shuddered and fell limp into the rope that bound her. Heat did not stop its ravage. Fire seared away Dawn's face, the skin of her lips, mouth, and her nose, to reveal bone where the Dark Dweller held his hand. It cracked skin, curled hair that fell too close, and deformed what once lived into ash.
Lana trembled, confused and shocked, astounded for long moments counted by the pound of her heart in her ears, moments that did not seem to affect the frozen world around her. She could not understand. Dawn was dead. It could not be. And yet, her sister's face no longer glowed with life. It glowed with embers of fire.
Something snatched her wrist, something from a dream world she had woken from and tried to leave behind. But, she was awake. She had been awake the whole time. And this was not a dream. Motion blurred the courtyard around her and sound jumbled in her ears, the real world shaken alive by the mere acknowledgment of its truth.
She gasped ragged waves of air. Her ears filled with a numb rhythm, the drums of battle. Everything around her dropped away. Only Ruer Ieraas remained, poised above her sister's limp body, her mother's blood on his hands and fire in his eyes. Fury boiled through her chest, into her throat, seethed every nerve in her body. She screamed, but it did not calm the storm within.
Again, from the world beyond, a force seized her wrist. It jerked her back a step, away from the fire and death, and tugged to restrain her. She ripped free and stepped forward. Power consumed her, frenzied by wrath. She was not Lana. She was the air above and earth beneath, the plants within and the water throughout. Shadows grabbed at her and she twisted from every one that tried to hold her back.
Rock rumbled and shook under her feet, up her legs and into her chest. Wind howled in squalls around her, rain swept up in the gale. Droplets shattered against her, the sting unnoticed. Rock cracked the foundation at her feet. Gusts tore at her, enraged. Roots from the trees around broke free from the ground in every direction. They writhed and twisted with the wild sentience her gift lent them and her rage demanded.
Ruer Ieraas clenched his hands into fists, his focus intent on her, just as hers was on him. Flames found refuge from the wind and rain in the furnace that blared from him. Fire exploded, wrapped around him, formed along the surfaces of his skin, fuelled by his dark power. Flames licked and snatched the fabric of Dawn's gown in their hungry claws. Within the inferno his eyes goaded her and a small smile curled his lips.
Lana cried out. She was not sure she had ever stopped. Her throat was dry and her lungs ached, her scream lost in the howl of wind. Ground split before her. Roots, adamant with purpose, hurdled from the cracks, toward the Dark Dweller. Torrents of air slammed him, faster than the roots. He stumbled back and the flames around his body flickered at the assault.
Fire threatened to consume Dawn. Lana called water from the sky and pooled it together. Gusts of her storm swirled it around her in violent rivers with no start and no end, no purpose to guide them. She gave them one, the desire to extinguish Ruer Ieraas's life.
Water crashed over the Dark Dweller and the flames around him hissed in death and billowed with steam. A grin split her face and her scream dissolved, quietened by grim satisfaction. Roots reached their goal. Each jostled him, penetrated his skin and muscle and organs in a chorus of wet thuds and heavy thumps that echoed over the wail of wind. Momentum took most of them straight through and into the ground behind him. His mouth gaped and his eyes widened. He looked down at his impaled body, slowed by his arrogant disbelief.
She was not finished. His death alone would not pay for what he had done, what the darkness had done. She clawed for control of the ground. She willed it to bury everything, to devour the Dark Dwellers, to clean the world of the dead they left in the Shadow Dragon's veil.
A crack halted her command, the blow of something against the back of her head. Lana stumbled. The ring of impact pacified the pound of drums that drove hot blood through her. Her head reeled between light and heavy, up and down, left or right, she could not tell the differences. The winds around her eased their tumult and the angry rumble of the ground gurgled to a troubled rest. Her face slammed into a hard surface at a strange angle she could not understand.
Dirt filled her mouth and nose, sucked in from a gasp, and she groaned. Clouds fogged the edges of her sight, her mind too slow to rise above them. She reached for the wind to aid her, to brush away the haze. Her hand extended for it, but no power surged forth to send her call. A breeze brushed her cheek, reassurance or warning. Wet drops prodded at her, calm or urgent. Her mind picked through the mess in search for answers.
She strained to look up. A black stain marred the haze, the Dark Dweller. He convulsed with a cough that threw red from his dark mass. Ruer Ieraas had to die. She tried to move her arms, to lift herself from the ground. They refused her efforts. Her body refused to move.
Consciousness slipped from her grasp and she plunged into the fog, her thoughts muffled in the haze. Dawn's smile, the bright sparkle in her eyes and gold shimmer of her hair, flashed before her, lucid enough to touch. She grasped for it, within her reach, moments from her fingertips. Darkness enveloped her, swallowed the glimmer from sight, devoured her sister's smile, and Dawn was smothered in the empty pause between heartbeats.