The darkness swallowed her as she opened the window, hair knotting itself as a gust of warm wind swept over. Moonlight reflected off the glittering whiteness of the windows, allowing her view inside as she glanced back into the dark and quiet bedroom. She swung her leg over the windowsill, jumping the three feet to the ground and brushing off her pants as she stood. She tugged her jacket tightly around herself, reaching into the inside pocket and slipping the thin chain around her neck. She gripped the arrowhead shaped pendant in a tight fist. It had taken so long and so much effort to make without her parents seeing or finding out about.
But the person who she had wanted to give it to had left, even without a goodbye.
She started walking, speeding up as a line of trees came into view. She glanced to her right as she passed a particularly tall one with a winding trunk, shaking her head to toss the curls out of her eyes.
The sound of rushing water filled her ears, covering her like a blanket as she reached a part in the forest. A gurgling creek greeted her, the milky water washing over the stones and offering a calming sort of lullaby, allowing all thought of her crumbling family to escape into the air. It allowed at thoughts of him to escape, to offer her relief for the few moments when he wasn't on her mind.
She brushed her fingers along the tall line of boulders to her left, steps slowing as she reached the climax of their height. Ivy and curling vines shielded the stone from the cold of night, hanging from the tops and brushing the ground.
She paused as she reached a small visible crack between boulders, parting the ivy and turning to fit through he narrow entrance. The thin path soon grew wider as the solid roof of stone became visible above her head. She let out a breath as the trail ended.
The cave was small and dark, but easily large enough for her to move around in. She snapped her fingers, running a hand through her hair and pushing it out of her eyes as she raised her head to the miniature orb floating in the center of the faintly domed roof, offering it's light and casting shadows on the wall.
One of the shadows moved.
She stilled. It wasn't a natural movement, like blackness dancing on a wall thanks to flames. Someone else was here.
"I thought you'd forgotten about this place."
She unsheathed her knife, swirling to face a figure who stepped out of the shadows, taking a step back as they moved forward out of the dark. Her eyes, hands, and blade glowed a faint purple.
"You know you don't need that."
They stepped into the brightest pool of light the orb offered, just under the glowing sphere. A pair of hazel eyes stared at her from the darkness of the figure's hood.
Hazel. Their eyes were hazel.
"I never fail to amaze you, don't I." Their voice was soft and masculine, tinged with humor as the hood fell from over their dark brown hair.
Her knife dropped to the floor with an echoing, metallic clang.
"I... thought you were dead."
Her voice remained calm, unwavering. Every trace of his existence had vanished- every record on the Web, any grades he had received or tests he had taken at the Academy- gone. All except for the memories of his family and friends. And even then, they were fading.
But she remembered him. Her memories were clear and crystalline, each moment in her mind alive as if weaved straight from the fabric of existence and planted in her head.
The question of why she remembered fled as he opened his arms to her, surrounding her trembling body in a strong embrace.
He pressed his nose into her dark hair, tangling his fingers in her curls as she gripped the fabric of his jacket, pressing herself closer. His heartbeat thundered in her ears, mixing with the ragged sound of his breathing to create a soft hum, almost like music. It was a song her heart wanted to dance to- a song cut short as he drew away, leaving her longing for his warmth.
His eyes were serious, cold and dark where they had been once warm and bright. When he spoke, his voice was soft. "I don't have much time. I'm sorry."
He sat down on one of the chiseled away stone benches lining the small cave, reaching out for her hand and pulling her towards him. She sat, meeting his eyes. "They'll come for you, Vyla." He whispered. "Because I'm here. They're hunting me, and you know that. They can only take ten at a time for the Races, but they track and capture others they want. And they want me. And if they knew that you-" He exhaled a shuttering breath. "I need to go back and find a way to keep you all safe. If something happened to you or Renni or Alaric-"
"Then let me come with you." Vyla squeezed his hand tightly as he tensed to move away, as if recoiling the idea. "Alaric and Renn aren't little kids anymore- they can take care of each other. And you know I could handle it." A smile perked at her mouth. "I'm named after the Spirit of Light- I'm powerful enough. And you're named after a star. We-"
He pushed her hand away, standing up and exhaling a breath before turning back to her. "No, Vy. You need to stay with Renn and Alaric and take care of them. Protect them." His voice turned to a whisper. "You know our parents won't."
She stood, the pain clear in her eyes as she nodded. Pale lavender energy sparked around her hands, fading as her fingers interlocked with his.
They were silent for a moment, the soft sound of the gurgling stream drifting in from outside.
"Promise you won't forget me?" He reached up to caress her cheek, brushing away a stray tear that glistened in her violet eye and stained a wet trail on her dark skin. "Among all your allies and friends in the rebellion?"
He held her close, an arm wrapping protectively around her thin figure. "I could never forget you, Vyla." His eyes flickered to her mouth, to her lips slightly parted as her soft, shallow breaths passed between them. She barely had time to swipe her tongue across her red and dry, chapped skin before their lips met. He gripped her curls tightly in his hands, supporting the base of her neck and head as her fingers trailed across his face and into his mess of brown hair.
Vyla shuttered as he deepened the kiss; her hands brushed softly against his jaw, pressing against his chest as his heartbeat pulsed underneath. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him towards her and letting out a faint, shuttering breath against his lips as he complied.
They parted for air a few seconds later, hesitant to fully pull apart before doing so. Their raspy and heavy breathing filled the ears of the other, hot on their faces and necks. They stilled, reveling in their shared warmth before he took a step back, leaving Vyla to the cold once again.
He refused to meet her eyes. "I have to leave."
She stared down at his hand; the tingle of his breath on her neck, the pounding of his heartbeat, and the feel of mouth on hers pulsed freshly in her mind.
The memories would be added to her collection- all she had left of him.
Vyla let go.
He turned to the entrance of the cave, and she forced her eyes away from him. "Altair, wait." Her voice cracked.
She stood, reaching to the necklace around her collar and undoing the fasten, watching as the chain piled into her palm like sand, covering over the dusky gray stone. Her trembling fingers entwined with his, prying his fist apart and placing the necklace in his hand. "Take it. I... was going to give it to you before, but..." He had left. For her protection.
Altair stared at the pendant.
"Our... family, I guess, gives something with that arrow on it to the person closest to them, usually as a sort of... confession. But officially. The runes carved depict the specific line, and what the arrow's made out of tells the kingdom. It's supposed to symbolize a way forward even where life seems as hard and dull and unmovable as stone." She fiddled with her hands, looking down at her feet. "It's... kind of a weird tradition, but... I wanted to give it to you."
He looked back at her again. Vyla could tell he was on the verge of crying; his eyes glistened and he clenched his jaw. Her gaze trailed away from him, and she gripped the fabric on her sleeve tightly as she crossed her arms over her chest.
"Vyla." Altair stepped forward, reaching out a hand to lift her chin to meet his eyes, gently cupping her face as he leaned in to kiss her one last time. This kiss was different. It didn't have the intensity of the last one, but was fragile like stained glass or a thin piece of ice over a pond. He drew away after a moment, touching their foreheads together before stepping away.
She wanted to pull him back, to beg him not to leave. Not to leave Alaric, Renn, or her. But he had to go.
He walked towards the tunnel that would leave him out, placing a hand on the wall and digging his fingers into it. "I..." Altair glanced back at her one more time as if looking at her fully would hurt him, would make him change his mind and selfishly stay. But he turned around, fighting against himself and not taking a step towards her as their eyes met again. "I love you."
He turned away, hurrying out of the cave and out into the night. He knew he made the right choice, even if it would haunt him for the rest of his life. A life he knew would be cut short- he couldn't give Vyla the same fate.
Vyla rubbed the back of her neck, sitting down on the bench and pressing her back against the stone. A tear slipped out of her eye; then another, and another. Her body shook, cold against the stone and air. The breeze that managed to creep in wasn't comforting anymore, but rather a tempest that swirled her thoughts around and further emphasized the fact that he was gone.
Altair's light had gone out. For good.