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I blink into awareness, forcing my eyes to open despite the pain. The stars above me are brilliant- distant yet so alive. They pierce through my pounding head, forcing me to close my eyes against them once more as I slowly force myself into a sitting position.

"Ren," I croak out into the silent and starlit night. Nothing. No one replies, and my ears strain, waiting to hear a breath or a sob or a heartbeat. He had been right here, right next to me, fighting to keep his temper as the horrible priestess had stalked closer to us. And then...then he had attacked her. Had run at her with his too small dagger, screaming for her to let me go. To stop playing mind games. And that's when the darkness had overwhelmed me.

"Ren," I breathe out again, scanning the dark, open field around me.

"Did you really think you could simply kill me? That two silly little Protectors is all it would take to push me aside? I've spent years waiting for this moment. Decades."

I whirl around to face the ageless voice of Alicia, the Priestess who we had trusted and put our faith in. The same woman who now betrays us. There is blood on her light blue robes, the dark stain drawing my eyes in fear.

"Where is he?" I say through gritted teeth, checking my belt for my dagger, but like everything else, it too is gone.

"Since you seem to be in the mood for games, let's play one, shall we, Enet?"

I exhale slowly, trying to keep my breathing steady, my mind shut off against her. I can't let her get in my head. I can't let her find out where the Mask of Adel is hidden. She is already too powerful as it is. If she finds and uses the mask, even the strongest of us will be useless against her. And then she will obliterate the Protectors, and all but the lesser beings. I see her now for what she is- a woman who has craved power her entire existence. A woman who will stop at nothing to wipe out any magic but her own. "Where is he?" I repeat slowly, pacing a few steps back as she approaches me.

"He ran away like the coward he is," Alicia hisses softly, and it's then that I see the thin stiletto dagger twinkle in her hands.

She won't kill me, at least not yet, but that doesn't mean she won't use that dagger in more creative ways. There are some things worse than death. "Liar."

She stops, tilting her head to look me up and down, like an animal hunting down their prey. I check the barriers in my mind, and in the next moment she attacks both mentally and physically. The blow to my mind staggers me, and I hiss against the nails that scrape down the white stone wall of my mind. In four quick steps, she is in front of me, sweeping the dagger in a deadly arch towards my belly. Without thought, I leap back, hitting the ground hard and rolling to the side to avoid her follow up attack.

I want to scream as the pounding in my head increases. I want to fight back, but I'm drained, and without a weapon to confront her physically, it is only a matter of time before she wins. 

I roll to my feet, backing away from her with slow legs as she keeps even with my retreat. Her smile glints in the starlight, and then I can no longer see.

A burst of power shatters through my mind, blowing a hole with precision through my mental wall of stone. I can't help it- I scream. It's a wet scream, full of sobs as they press against my throat. I can't see the world around me, but I can feel my knees hit the moist, cold earth. I fight against the sucking darkness of my mind, fight to patch up the hole, but she is already through, already in my mind.

Like the brutal rip of a knife against flesh, she tears apart the thin veil of my consciousness, pulling my memories to her in shreds. My mother screaming as they killed my father. My brother being tied up outside the village walls as a reminder what loyalty could earn you. Blood pouring from his hands and feet as they cut them open. Ren wrapping the white linen around and around my bloodied arm.  The way the summer rains poured through the valley of corpses. The glittering bleach white of the mask as it weighed in my hands, the rivets of its making like veins that can be felt but not seen. The warmth of Ren's lips against mine. The promise to keep the hiding place a secret. The place where we hid the mask so no one would find it. Where we hid-

"No!" I roar, pushing against her magic as it tears me apart. Like a deep, deep well of water I dive down, pulling what is left of me to fight her. Pulling at the anger, the sorrow, the joy- pulling the faces of those I have loved and lost. The blood oaths I carry in my heart to see this through. To make their deaths worthy. To be worthy.

It is just enough to push away her darkness. I am just strong enough to put the bricks up one by one and shut her from my mind and blink into awareness.

I am on the ground and she is on top of me, my arms pinned painfully beneath her knees, the edge of the dagger cold against my neck. I exhale against it, staring into her cold eyes. "Kill me then. Kill me like you killed them. I won't tell you. I'll never tell you."

The dagger presses against my throat, and I feel the flesh yield to it. Feel the blood like a cold kiss as it slips along my skin.

"Your bravery will be something to mock in the world I will build. I am inevitable, and you are just another bit of bone and flesh that wasn't brave enough to take the power for herself," she breathes, leaning closer to my face. "Just another girl who chose to be nothing when she could have been everything. You will be forgotten-"

Her eyes go wide, the silver in them full of darkness, her crimson smile faltering, and I feel the knife press more firmly against my throat before a hand quickly peels it from her hand, away from me. Almost as though time has stopped, as though a breath is being held, she turns to look at the face of her attacker, but it is too late. She is already dead. And she slips from my body and falls face-first beside me onto the grass.

---------------------------------------

"Ren," I manage, swallowing against the pressure in my throat. Against the ghost of a blade that was almost my end. "I thought you were dead."

He reaches for me gingerly, pulling me further out from beneath her, and folds me into his arms. "So did I," he breathes, "So did she."

"She's dead," I state stunned, turning to stare at the body, the dagger that protrudes from her back.

"Are you hurt?"

I shake my head. I don't have the strength for me. I want to go home. I want to spend the rest of my life far away from these battles for power and magic. I want to forget about the mask and just keep holding onto the boy in my arms.

But I know I can't. I know this is just the beginning. If a Priestess of Matria can fall victim to the lure of the mask's powers, then anyone can. And unlike Alicia, the evil King is not dead, and the powers of the mask do not slumber.

Ren helps me to my feet, running a cold finger over the cut against my neck. I just stare at him, holding his eyes in mine like a distant galaxy I might disappear into.

"Take me home," I whisper.

He nods, folding me against him as we turn away from the body of the woman we had thought to trust. We walk slowly, my eyes sweeping the dark plains and high grasses we pace through, sweeping skyward to mark the Star of Pao. It glitters like a beacon, bright and promising.

This is just the beginning of what is to come, but the glory of the stars far above me is a reminder that we will not have to fight it alone.  

July 20, 2020 22:06

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6 comments

Yolanda Wu
03:09 Aug 22, 2020

I know this was written a while ago, but I really loved this story. Especially the beginning which really captured my attention. All the descriptions throughout were so good. Amazing work!

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Kate Reilly
15:52 Aug 24, 2020

Thank you! It’s a scene from the novel I’m writing! I’m so glad you enjoyed it :)

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Cynthia Grove
19:02 Aug 01, 2020

I love this story. It reminds me of ancient Egypt, one of my favorites. Or it could be any civilization. Your writing appeals to me because I am seriously interested in ancient civilizations, Wicca and paganism, and past lives. I love the submission and hope you continue the saga.

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Kate Reilly
15:52 Aug 24, 2020

Thank you so much for taking the time to read it! :)

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Conan Helsley
05:09 Jul 30, 2020

The only thing I can say about this is that it was quite a different take on the prompt. I'm not a fantasy fan in general, but you did it very well. The one change I would suggest is when she's cut and you describe it as a cold kiss. Blood is warm as it leaves the body, so I may have written it as a warm kiss. But altogether really good. You definitely have a talent for storytelling and I think that is always more important than anything else. Good job on this one.

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Kate Reilly
18:06 Jul 30, 2020

Conan, thank you so much for your comment and taking the time to offer feedback- I so appreciate it! Thanks!

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