Raya Castor tucked the arrow-shaped pendant back under the collar of her gray shirt, a shiver traveling down her chest and arms as the cold obsidian touched her skin. She watched as a blue-eyed brunette turned into the long and wide high-ceilinged corridor and sat down on the deep marble window seat next to her.
"It's only me." Katya said with a soft smile, reaching our to place a comforting hand on Raya's.
"I know, but I wish-" she couldn't complete the sentence. "How long has it been?" she asked, instead.
"Only a day." Kate replied, exhaling a slow breath. "And a few hours. But it'll pass just like last year, and the year before that." she gave a confident nod. "He'll be back."
"I've given up counting."
Kate gave a small nod, gaze following her best friend's out to one of the many courtyards of the Sinistrian palace. The theme of white and gray with bloodred was sickeningly common. The stone paths were spotless, cutting sharply around the even layer of grass. A tall white fountain craned for attention in the center, the water barely rippling as streams of water crashed down on it's pristine surface.
Raya tore her eyes away from the fountain; it reminded her too much of the hidden cave behind a waterfall not to far from their location. It was one of the only places no one could find her- except for Therin.
She looked out at the flower-filled hedges, instead. The bright scarlet roses stared back at her, the color screaming that they were dyed. Fake.
"Not even the roses are left untampered with." Raya muttered, brining her left leg up and wrapping her arms loosely around her knees.
"But they still bloom." Kate squeezed her hand in an act of reassurance. "You have to make the best of whatever the situation is."
"My sister used to say that." Raya ran her fingers through her short-cut hair, hand drifting down to the silver chain, then to the pendant which she gripped in a tight fist. "But she's gone now. And so's Therin." Her voice cracked at his name, tears filling her eyes that she desperately tried to blink away. "And I-"
"You aren't gone, Raya." she whispered with a small shake of her head. "Not now, not ever."
Raya met her friend's eyes, a tear slipping down her cheek and staining her shirt with a small drop of misery. "Not yet."
Alaric furrowed his eyebrows, tilting his head. "A what?"
Vatra didn't respond, but lifted a hand and shot a beam of bright orange fire to Alaric's left. He flinched as it grazed his already worn jacket, quickly brushing off the layer of ice on his sleeve. "A Frostfire."
She leapt towards him, and Alaric scrambled away. There weren't any plants in the tundra- maybe a frozen weed or two at best.
Vatra chuckled as he threw a hasty punch, swiftly turning and brushing her fingers across his arm, then pressed her hands to his back as she shoved him away. "What- no magic?"
He screamed as the flames ate away at the fabric, slowly crawling towards his neck. Alaric gritted his teeth as he threw the lump of burning fabric to the side, the flames extinguishing as it hit the ground. He tried his best not to tremble as the arctic temperature hit his skin, the fine hairs on his arms raising as a blast of piercing wind shot through the cave.
Eriene stood, eyes narrowed as the wind coiled around her hands in pale silvery-white streams. The hair in her now loose ponytail curled around her shoulders. The fire in the center of the cave went out, though the sun reflecting off the ice-sealed cave provided enough light for everyone to see.
"Ooh, fancy." Calder said with a smirk- a very attractive smirk, Alaric had to admit, though it compared nothing to the expression on a particular blonde. Alaric glanced over at Everlys, who bit her lip to keep from smiling and turned back to the two Riverdeenian cousins.
"I know, right?" Eriene remarked, voice heavy with sarcasm, lifting an arm to meet Calder's beam of blue energy.
Everlys tried to make it as not-obvious as she could that her right wrist was injured. Her eyes narrowed in focus as she tugged one of the pins out of her hair, tossing it in Alaric's direction, immediately grabbing the other and lunging at Vatra.
"What am I supposed to do-" He was cut off with a loud shriek as a tall, looming figure pounced from the shadows. He skirted to the side, gripping the previously-hairpin-now-knife tightly in his hands. It wouldn't have any chance against the snarling black, white, and red dragon. It's eyes were two different colors- the right one a deep, deep blue, and the other close to white.
Vatra shoved Everlys away, shooting a blast of freezing fire towards her right arm. The blonde grit her teeth, hissing in pain even after the ice faded into a cold mist. She glanced down at the Sinistrian's right arm, a smirk creeping on to her face as noticed the way Everys held her arm.
Alaric turned to aid her, but was met with the same two eyes. The blue and white contrasting with the dark scales crated an eerie effect, and he stilled as the creature stared.
His confusion and curiosity slipped away as a sharp scream echoed through the cave. It faded as black tendrils crept up the stone walls and door of ice, blocking all the natural light the snow offered.
The cavern silenced. No one- not Vatra, Eriene, or the dragons moved as coils of black energy twisted around the two cousins. Therin slowly walked over to Calder. His eyes flared with anger at something the contestant must have earlier said.
"Say that again." he hissed, twisting the energy to squeeze Calder's body like a long, black snake. "I dare you."
He shook his head, smiling. "I don't need to repeat it for you to know it's true."
Silently, the he was lifted off the ground, withering in agony as the coils furiously pressed into and burned into his flesh. Vatra screamed as her cousin was thrown against the stone wall, falling limp with open, glassy eyes as his body hit the floor.
"No wonder Raya hates you." The Frostfire hissed. "That's her name, right? Raya Castor? Lady Raya Castor? Who's ranks above you in the Sinistrian Nobility?"
"You have no right to say her name." Therin's voice shook as his eyes flickered to black.
Vatra smiled, tearing her arm free of the black coils and sent a beam of bright blue fire around the room, bouncing off the walls until it hovered in front of Therin's ghostly pale face.
It coiled around his ear, illuminating the side of his face as Vatra's voice quietly echoed from it. "And you have no right to love her."
Eriene exhaled a shuttering breath, white dancing around her fingertips. "Therin, wait-"
He didn't pay any attention to whatever Eriene was going to say. The whites of his eyes swirled to black as he lifted both arms towards Vatra.
The last thing they heard from her were screams.
Therin stilled, the blackness fading as his face returned to normal. He looked at Calder, at the blood staining the gray wall crimson. Then at Vatra's mangled body, her defiant smirk faded as her mouth gaped in a scream.
Alaric made his way towards Everlys, reaching out to tightly squeeze her hand. Therin's eyes traveled around the cavern; he looked terrified at what he had done.
No one said anything as he quickly swept past and turned to enter the branching tunnel. But he froze. In the place where two two dragons had been were two people.
The male, who looked barely sixteen, shivered as he coughed up blood. His dark brown hair was matted, sticking to his forehead with sweat. He collapsed on the ground, jerking with spasms. He lifted his head, meeting Alaric's eyes. One was blue, the other white.
The girl looked a year or two younger than him, back pressed against the wall as her dark, narrow eyes flickered from contestant to contestant. She looked over at the bodies of Vatra and Calder, sharply turning away as her breathing grew heavier.
Eriene slowly towards the girl, and she looked back with an expression full of curiosity.
She looked to Alaric, eyes widening with recognition. "You're the Emrys everyone's been talking about." she said, voice all but a whisper.
He tilted his head, confused, but quickly looked over at the male as Everlys made her way towards him.
She held her pin tightly, kneeling down and meeting his eyes for a few moments before pressing the tip to his blood-soaked shirt. The fabric was the same color a the dragon's scales. The blonde whispered something in his ear, and he managed a small nod. His breathing grew more erratic, and he focused on her blue eyes. His next breath was cut short as she plunged the knife upwards into his chest.
Eriene knew, despite all that she had learned in the cave with Veradis, that he was dead. Truly.
Everlys stood, hand trembling as she wiped the blood off on her jacket. "We should leave." she whispered, walking out of the cave and into the twisting tunnel. Alaric immediately followed her, Therin waiting before Eriene gave him a nod that she had everything under control.
"Come with us." She said to the girl, taking off her jacket and offering it to the Shifter.
"You don't even know me." Her voice was soft, but had an edge to it. A reminder that she was strong, despite her shivering, pale frame.
"I barely know anyone here." Eriene whispered, pressing the lump of fabric into the girl's hands. "But trusting each other our best chance of getting out alive."