"Hello, beloved sister of mine." Luke said with a sigh as Raya appeared in front of us. She let out a scoff, smirking at Luke as he stared at her with a blank, tired expression. This was the most emotion I'd ever seen her portray. Sure, it had only been a mere few hours, but she didn't exactly show her feelings like Luke did. It was only subtle smiles and frowns, rarely anything more. Her silver eyes then turned to me.
"I need to speak with Eriene." she said to her brother, though her gaze didn't leave me. I didn't have time to say anything before she latched on to my arm, pulling me away from my only Sinistrian friend. He waved to me as she dragged me off, offering a smile before loosing himself in the crowd.
I didn't understand. Why did Lady Raya Castor want to talk to me? And what about? She stopped at a secluded corner of the room, gesturing for me to sit next to her on one of the marble benches. I stared for a moment, my mind drifting to the music playing in the background. I recognized the instrument as a flute. The song was almost over, just like the lives of nine contestants.
"Eriene." I heard her say, and I snapped back to Raya. I reluctantly sat down after a moment. I didn't sense hostility.
"Pay attention." she said softly, lifting her arm and touching her fingers to my forehead. It was only a moment before scenes tumbled through my mind in a endless flow.
These were Raya's memories.
A figure walked down a stone hallway, pace quickening as she heard the faint sound of water against sand. The only light came from small flames floating above circular plates of metal, casting flitting shadows on the wall. Soon, she reached a balcony, eyes lighting up as the figure already standing there turned to her.
The night sky was a splash of pure sable, indigo trickling down the horizon like a line of paint. It was dotted with stars, lights that allowed them to peer into the past, each one a portal to the Spirit World. Moonlight surrounded him in a glowing halo. His dark hair shined against the backdrop of the full moon, strays flying across his forehead in the light breeze.
"You're late." He said with a smirk, and she smiled, stopping when they were a foot apart.
"But I came." Raya replied, matching his expression.
"But you're still late." The playfulness in his voice was clear as he spoke, eyes glittering with amusement.
"Shut up, Therin." she mumbled with a scoff, winding her arms around his neck as his wrapped around her waist.
"You know you love me." He said with a smirk, raising a brow as if daring her to contradict.
Raya rolled her eyes and gazed at him, though she couldn't hide the smile Therin's words brought. Her expression changed for a moment, looking terrified at the thought of something. The races. He pressed his lips to her forehead as if reading her mind, and Raya exhaled the breath she had unconsciously been holding.
She stared out at the sky, at the stars that glittered from the dark expanse, and at the moon who stared back at her reflection in the water.
"It's tomorrow." Raya whispered, resting her head on his shoulder. Therin nodded, fear flitting across his ice-blue gaze for a brief second.
"I know." He tucked a stray behind her ear, almost as if to reassure her that everything would be fine. She smiled, breathing in the minty fragrance Therin always gave off. It was calming, especially when she knew what the next day could bring. He hugged her tighter, and she melted into him. The night was cold, but the wind didn't touch her. Not when Therin was there.
Raya knew she wouldn't have to compete. Nobles weren't included in the count. He was lucky to not have been chosen the past three years.
Therin wasn't a noble. Sure, his parents were accomplished Telepaths and well-known across Sinistra, but he wasn't nobility. Not like her.
The scene swirled to white, the two figures curling up into wisps of black. It then changed, the misty substance dropping down with me. I felt like I was falling. It materialized into a location I recognized- the Sinistrian throne room.
(One year prior)
"I'm Raya. Raya Castor" she said with the slightest of smirks playing on her lips. The girl lifted her chin and stared at her with dark, emotionless eyes. Raya watched as an official called her away and the contestants lined up. She listened as they went down the line and recited their names. She hadn't caught the girl's name, though. Her voice had been too quiet for her to make out from across the throne room.
"Why do they have to fight?" Her youngest brother asked once the girl had walked off. She glanced over at him, then at the middle Castor sibling, who was staring at the forests beyond the palace.
"I don't know, Lex." she whispered with a sigh, reaching over and ruffling his head of blonde hair. She made sure that no one heard her. Contradicting the rules set by the generations before resulted in punishment. "They just do."
Afterwards, the girl cautiously made her way over to her, who had traveled over to a corer of the throne room. Raya couldn't help but notice how different she looked than any person she usually saw.
The girl didn't have the same sharpness in her features that most Sinistrians did, or the toned, strong limbs that training from a young age gave. Her face was softer, eyes framed with dark, thick lashes, skin tanned from days surely spent in the sun.
Just like the last time, everything swirled into ink, carrying me up before dropping down into a black pool. Raya then materialized in front of me, looking slightly younger than she did now. My eyes narrowed at the hooded figure, taking in a sharp breath as I saw who it was. Nepthys.
Raya looked up as she heard footsteps, exhaling a breath she had been holding as she saw who it was. The figure pushed back their hood, and gave a small smile. Plaits of dark, braided hair spilled out and tumbled down her back as she shook her tresses free.
"No one followed, don't worry." Nepthys whispered as Raya stood, glancing down the dark, torch-lit way. They were underneath the castle, in one of the twisting corridors that led to the dungeons.
"Come with me." Raya murmured, beckoning for her to follow as she walked, the air getting colder every second. The Sinistrian didn't seem to mind the chill, staring straight ahead. She touched her pointer finger to her lips as Nepthys opened her mouth, continuing to walk. Her steps were light and catlike, making almost no sound as Raya traveled through the stone way. She blended into the shadows as a guard crossed the corridor perpendicular to them. Raya grabbed her arm and extended her shield to Nepthys as the armor-clad figure looked their way. The guard paused for a moment, then continued on their patrol a few tense moments later.
Nepthys froze as a loud roar echoed through the dungeons. Shouts and sharp cries followed. "Is that..."
Raya nodded, grabbing her hand and leading her though the passage. Her eyes turned to Nepthys as a white shield enclosed them and flickered to translucent.
The girl held her breath as they walked under a tall, stone archway, freezing as she looked out at a dungeon.
The walls glowed red and orange from the fires that danced in large, circular fire pits. Guards tugged down chains slung over a gigantic, scaled beast, their commands lost in the creature's tortured cries. The dragon thrashed under the chains, howling in pain as spikes dug into it's stomach and scales. Raya's eyes darkened as she saw that the creature in the front wasn't the only dragon with the same fate. One in the back was covered in wounds like the others, falling limp and instantly chained down. A group near the left looked like they had just hatched. They were same size of the guards who fastened bonds around their wings, legs, and muzzles, minuscule compared to the others.
Raya looked back at Nepthys, who gazed out at the scene in horror, unable to look away. "Dragons."
Raya had known Nepthys.
Lady Raya Castor had known my best friend.
I stared at her, confused, as she lowered her arm. I was perplexed, shocked, and didn't know what to think. Why? Why would she want to help Nepthys win? Did she want to end the races? I thought back to the first memory she shared. Therin was in it. I was right when I suspected that they knew each other. It couldn't be a coincidence that he was one of the competitors this year.
"You need to stop the races." she whispered to me as if hearing my thoughts. She looked desperate, gaze filled with heartbreak and anguish. Her expression matched the last, tense line of the song. "It's not all you think, Eriene. There's more going on than a fight between ten people for the sake of balance." Raya paused, staring at me with her intense, silver eyes. "There's more at play than the history you know."