She found herself on a craggy cliff with dirt dark as ash. A lone cherry blossom tree grew its twisted and mahogany-colored trunk at the precipice. A pink tornado of petals had fallen below it in a perfect circle. The errant wind scattered them through the air, only for them to be replaced by a continuously falling stream of the blossoms.
Terra made her way to the edge of the cliff and sat on the gnarled roots of the tree, their allure to beckoning to resist. There lay more cliffs down below, augmented to by running red rivers of molten lava, steaming and hissing with mystery. Translucent clouds of lilac and dove pink hung in clumps and wisps below, curling around the lava in an attempt to cool it.
And then she heard him. His voice. It was clear as the day, rang out as sharp and beautiful as she had remembered. As beautiful when she had heard it the first time. “You have to get up.”
She flew around and into his arms, sobbing uncontrollably. He was warm and solid and real. He wasn’t hugging her back, though. Terra moved away, confusion limning her wet eyes. “Why are you not happy to see me?”
Perhaps she was dreaming.
But it was him.
Her long-lost friend, Patricius. Risen from the dead.
But he was alive now, and the look in his eyes was smoldering.
Oh, how she had missed him. The empty, hollow days without his dry humor and quick wit not around to comfort her. Those long, dreamless, starless nights without him by her side. They used to watch the stars during the summer nights, with only the buzzing fireflies to keep them company and light. Sometimes, she would lay her head on his chest and fall asleep against his beating heart. Sometimes, he would respond with a tentative brush of his lips on her brow.
It had been a fiercely loyal friendship, yet both had always wondered if it could have progressed into something more. They had decided to remain the best of friends instead of lovers after much deliberation.
A few months after their decision, they had a fight. About the rising tensions between the Daughters of Night and his tribe. It had been long and mean, with equal malice and contempt on both sides, though maybe more on hers. It had ended in him throwing her beloved lamp across her room, the burnished gold gleaming in the firelight as it spilt hot oil on her shoulders and neck. When he had seen her wincing in pain, her face scrunched up in an effort to hide the agony, he had left. Silently. Cruelly.
The next day, they went to war. And she was not able to stop his death. It had been a painful death, from what she could garner. She had seen him from across the battlefield, impaled by a spear shaft, embedded in the unforgiving earth as he bled out slowly. Agonizingly slowly. A cruel death for the kindest person she had ever known. The one to forever leave a mark on her heart.
And now he stood before her, stoic as the lava-hardened rock below. No, emotion did not filter through on the smooth planes of his face, nor did his eyes show any hint of warmth. His blonde, wind-swept hair fluttered uncertainly in the gales that flew past them. Though he was a mere few inches from her, it felt like they were a thousand miles apart.
“What is it?” she whispered, afraid to ask.
“Terra…” he trailed off.
“What,” she shook him by the shoulders, the fierceness in her gaze now focused on him.
Her arms fell slack. Ainia, her sister not borne of blood, but of bond. That bond that was inseverable. Unshakable. The type of bond that could not be broken easily. If any thing had happened to her anything, she swore…Swore to end the world where it stood, to raze it to the ground and revel in the cries of those who had caused her sister harm. She would end them before they even had a chance to beg.
“You must hurry back, little Tya.”
Terra stiffened at the use of the nickname, the way his thick accent lilted around the syllables. She restrained herself from hugging him right then. She had missed the sound of his voice calling her name.
“I cannot, Patricius. I have established…ties here. Set a new identity for myself as a lady of the court. How will I hasten to my sister’s side?”
He snarled. “I think we both know that you are only interested in being around the repulsive shadow demon. Be it in the guise of helping your sisters as a spy. One who has not uncovered much of substance, might I add. What would Ignis say if she saw you here, indulging in this foolishness?”
Terra frowned. But did not deny the slight truth that rang in those words. “But how will I escape?”
“I will take care of that. I hang on tenuous strings connecting to the world of the living. I have fought for the past ten years to come this far, and this is the closest I have got. I will come in your dreams. If Raat permits me to, I may even come into the world of the living to help you. But I will find a way.”
“Indeed,” she scoffed. “The Night God speaks to you. Doubtful, but I’ll stay alert till then.”
“Remain undetected, little Tya. When you awake, do not let the demons taste the tang of your emotions on your skin. Do not show any hint of what you wish to do. Now I must take your leave. The balance between our worlds is already shaking with this encounter. Goodbye.”
He faded into a storm of misty cherry blossoms, swirling away with them until they made impact with the molten lava below. And promptly disintegrated into pink, charred ash. The world turned bleaker, darker, more dangerous. The cherry blossoms eddied around her feet, faster, and faster until they eclipsed her entirely. The world around her blurred till it was a splotch of gray, and then she was gone.
Terra blinked. Tried to get the haze out of her eyes. Her eyes were damp, she realized, as she ran a hand across them. Damp as the first dew on morning grass. So the dream had been real, then. Well, at least somewhat real.
She was in a warm cave, the interior an earthy brown. A small crevice let in the sound of the wind whistling outside. She craned her neck to get a better look. And gasped. In wonder, at the scene that awaited her. Mountains, their blue-purple that of lilacs blooming in a frozen meadow kissed by winter’s breath. They were dusted with a light powdering of snow. The sun shone brightly.
Terra got up from the cot. Her limbs were less sore. She made her way shakily to the crevice. Each step was a labored effort. Her legs were weak from disuse. Nevertheless, she persisted, though each step wracked pain in her core so great that it clouded her vision.
She arrived at the crevice. Gripped the hold tightly. She peered outside, just barely sticking her head from the warmth of the cave. It was a serene depiction she might have read about in one of her novels.
Rivers and waterfalls flowed through the mountains, all collecting into a massive reservoir below. Rocks, ferns and other various underbrush collected on indigo-gray boulders that surrounded the reservoir. A few weeping willows hid parts of the river, allowing vines to collect on the unbroken surface of the pristine lake.
Where was she?
And why the fuck had Patricius come to let her know about Ainia's death?